Kevin McCloud’s de­signs on NZ

Grand De­signs UK guru Kevin McCloud is head­ing Down Un­der on a speak­ing tour next month. He talks to Colleen Hawkes about special projects, risk, Thun­der­birds and mid­dle-aged women.

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE -

I‘‘I am drawn to the pi­o­neer­ing spirit of [New Zealand], and the ar­chi­tec­ture re­flects that.’’ Kevin McCloud

t’s 7.30am in Lon­don when Kevin McCloud calls for a chat. He’s perky and ap­proach­able, but you get the feel­ing he’s al­ways like this, what­ever the hour. The time of day is a pleas­ant change from the last time we talked, when he apol­o­gised be­cause it was a cold, win­try dawn in Auck­land and he was loung­ing in the sun af­ter a day film­ing in Corn­wall. To­day, he’s off again, to film a bloke in Kent, who is build­ing his house out of chalk. ‘‘He is dig­ging it out from un­der his feet and mix­ing it with a bit of lime, but no ce­ment. It’s quite ad­ven­tur­ous.’’ Of course. This is Grand De­signs UK, af­ter all. There’s a big vi­sion be­hind ev­ery project he films, but that’s where any project sim­i­lar­ity ends. And it’s that di­ver­sity that makes the show work, un­like other re­al­ity TV shows. ‘‘If you take three peo­ple and box them into a [re­al­ity show] for­mat, you will get the same be­hav­iour,’’ McCloud says. ‘‘That’s ‘con­structed re­al­ity’, where the out­come is al­ways known. We never know what the out­come will be on Grand De­signs. ‘‘A build can take three years, and no one knows if they will even fin­ish. There is al­ways this in­her­ent risk. If Grand De­signs was to be com­mis­sioned to­day, it wouldn’t hap­pen.’’ But McCloud – who has been do­ing this for 20 years – says watch­ing peo­ple take risks plays into the vi­car­i­ous na­ture of the dream we all har­bour – hav­ing a special place of our own. And that dream shouldn’t be a tiny house. McCloud doesn’t mind ‘‘small’’, when it’s clev­erly de­signed and in­ven­tive, but he’s not so sure about the driver be­hind the tiny house move­ment. ‘‘What I am con­cerned about most of all is that by do­ing more and more such projects, we’re le­git­imis­ing these small, cramped spa­ces. Rather, we should es­tab­lish min­i­mum space re­quire­ments. All of us need a min­i­mum amount of space to move around in, plus views, nat­u­ral light and large win­dows.’’ Grand De­signs UK has shown its share of mod­est builds, but McCloud says he has to fight off his pro­ducer who wants big­ger projects. ‘‘There’s no risk when you have an un­lim­ited bud­get. That’s just cheque­book ar­chi­tec­ture. If you have to fight your way out of a cor­ner, be re­source­ful and make it work, then the build is a lot more ex­cit­ing.’’ And this is why the de­signer loves Kiwi projects. ‘‘I am drawn to the pi­o­neer­ing spirit of the coun­try, and the ar­chi­tec­ture re­flects that,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s an ad­ven­tur­ous cur­rent run­ning through it, and a light­ness in the way the houses sit in the land­scape. Houses are of­ten in tim­ber and mod­est in scale and am­bi­tion, and I love that.’’ Is there any­thing Ki­wis can learn from the Brits’ ex­pe­ri­ence? ‘‘Not very much, is the an­swer. We have a pretty dys­func­tional plan­ning sys­tem and de­liv­ery modes. I would love to see a lit­tle bit more crafts­man­ship in [the UK], but we have a mas­sive skills short­age, and an­ti­quated pro­cure­ment and con­struc­tion meth­ods.’’ McCloud him­self is jug­gling a lot. ‘‘It’s all bonkers,’’ he says. While film­ing two other se­ries along­side Grand De­signs UK (Grand De­signs UK House of the Year and a com­mu­nity self-build se­ries), he has other busi­ness in­ter­ests, in­clud­ing a hous­ing com­pany, HAB, as well as speak­ing com­mit­ments. He is also work­ing his way through the back­log of Grand De­signs NZ pro­grammes. He wants to en­sure he is fully in­formed when he ar­rives Down Un­der for his talks in Auck­land and Christchurch. McCloud is a long-stand­ing friend of Grand De­signs NZ host, ar­chi­tect Chris Moller – they text each other ‘‘a lot’’. Moller says McCloud came out to New Zealand a few times around the time of the earth­quakes in Christchurch be­cause of his com­mit­ment and con­cern. ‘‘I met him for the first time in Auck­land, and when he came up to say hello, I thought it was a great priv­i­lege to meet him – as does ev­ery­one meet­ing Kevin McCloud. It was re­ally nice just to say hello, but the first thing he said to me was, ‘I’ve been wait­ing for ages to meet you, Chris’.’’ McCloud was in awe of Moller af­ter study­ing a ground­break­ing project the Kiwi ar­chi­tect had done in The Nether­lands. And the two have been friends since. Moller puts McCloud’s pop­u­lar­ity down to the fact that ‘‘he’s very gen­uine and com­mit­ted to what he’s do­ing. That’s it. That’s the bot­tom line’’. But there is more to it than that. ‘‘He’s ob­vi­ously very busy, but he al­ways makes time to sit down and think about what a per­son is ac­tu­ally ask­ing and to re­spond. He’s a nat­u­ral com­mu­ni­ca­tor, and very much in the tra­di­tion of great Bri­tish com­mu­ni­ca­tors, such as David At­ten­bor­ough.’’ McCloud had ad­vice for Moller when he set out to do Grand De­signs New Zealand. ‘‘Chris, be warned, he said. You’ll prob­a­bly be swamped by mid­dle-aged women. ‘‘But it’s just the op­po­site. My big­gest fans, by far, are tradies. I’ve been at con­fer­ences and it’s the sparkies and builders who want to come up and shake my hand.’’ While ques­tions about his pri­vate life are off limits, we do know McCloud and wife Su­sanna have four adult chil­dren, and his (win­ning) bat­tle with asthma has been doc­u­mented. Speak­ing to Bri­tain’s Ex­press news­pa­per last year, he said he is never with­out a per­fectly pressed hand­ker­chief ‘‘for clean­ing up spillages and res­cu­ing damsels in dis­tress’’. Many will re­mem­ber his ‘‘en­thu­si­asm’’ in the se­ries, Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour of Europe based on the trip young English­men took in the 1700s and 1800s. He was just as much in his el­e­ment vis­it­ing the brothels of Genoa as he was de­scrib­ing how a house in Venice stands up in the mud. What’s McCloud go­ing to talk about on this tour? ‘‘Thun­der­birds and drains’’. Yes, a true child of the 60s, he’s right into Thun­der­birds. ‘‘I just love the Thun­der­birds, Tracy Is­land, the whole thing. So yes, I am go­ing to talk about that.’’ He doesn’t elab­o­rate on the drains, but there’s bound to be some sus­tain­abil­ity in there, be­cause he’s also a huge ad­vo­cate for self-suf­fi­ciency and zero-en­ergy houses. And McCloud is walk­ing the talk. HAB (Hap­pi­ness, Ar­chi­tec­ture, Beauty) – he is a brand, af­ter all – is build­ing 600 ‘‘beau­ti­ful and sus­tain­able’’ homes in Eng­land, which will be far re­moved from the char­ac­ter­less, closed-in ar­chi­tec­ture that has de­fined so many UK homes. For starters, they won’t be a maze of sep­a­rate rooms. Open-plan liv­ing has taken a long time to in­fil­trate the English psy­che, but it’s an­other change for the bet­ter he is push­ing. ‘‘My brother re­cently built a house. On the out­side, it’s very tra­di­tional; on the in­side it’s very Grand De­signs, with a big pa­tio and bar­be­cue area out the back. But that’s a very Bri­tish thing [the tra­di­tional ex­te­rior] – you don’t ‘show off’.’’

McCloud has plans for a new build of his own. When he finds him­self a bit of land – ‘‘Who knows, I might look in New Zealand; there’s not much left in the UK’’ – he will hire his ar­chi­tect son. He hasn’t had time to imag­ine what the house might look like, but clearly it will be so­lar­pow­ered to the ex­tent he can ex­port en­ergy. ‘‘It’s an un­spo­ken thing, but hav­ing helped my son through seven years of study, I’m sort of obliged to com­mis­sion a build­ing from him. To have a child who fol­lows your pas­sion and can do this – well, I can think of noth­ing more beau­ti­ful.’’ But don’t ex­pect Grand De­signs to film that one, more’s the pity. McCloud says it’s not about him. Last time we spoke he said he val­ues his pri­vacy, and he is not the sub­ject of the show. ‘‘It’s bet­ter for me to re­main the ques­tioner and in­ter­preter. [To show my home] would be a ref­er­ence point that peo­ple would judge me on.’’ There is a se­ri­ous side to McCloud, of course. He is an Hon­orary Fel­low of Riba (Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects) and the So­ci­ety of Light and Light­ing and, in 2014, he re­ceived an MBE in the New Year’s Hon­ours list for ser­vices to sus­tain­able de­sign and en­ergy-sav­ing prop­erty re­fur­bish­ment. But if we re­ally want an insight into his char­ac­ter, his huge en­thu­si­asm for a very special Grand De­signs project he is film­ing says it all: ‘‘It’s a wild and won­der­ful healthy house in Lon­don, for a fam­ily with two chil­dren who are ex­tremely al­ler­gic. Their ill­ness is so se­vere the fam­ily has had to move next to the hos­pi­tal. ‘‘They are build­ing a healthy home with its own ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem and no volatile or­ganic com­pounds. York and Cam­bridge uni­ver­si­ties are both in­volved. It’s a re­ally rad­i­cal and ex­cit­ing project.’’ It doesn’t get bet­ter than that.

‘Green­house’ build

This week, Grand De­signs NZ is telling a story that will tick all Kevin McCloud’s boxes: it’s ex­actly the ‘‘house of the fu­ture’’ he en­vis­ages. Young cou­ple, Karl – a sus­tain­able build­ing con­sul­tant – and Amelie want an eco-friendly life­style but are strug­gling to af­ford a home. So they de­cide they need to do it them­selves. Grand De­signs NZ’s Moller de­scribes it as a ‘‘true, roll-your-sleeves-up Grand De­sign’’. ‘‘It has all the en­thu­si­asm and big ideals of a young fam­ily. In par­tic­u­lar, it’s a right of pas­sage for Karl to build their fam­ily home, and a chance to do it to­gether with his builder dad.’’ Moller says the story is not un­like a tra­di­tional ‘‘barn rais­ing’’, with friends and fam­ily all pitch­ing in to help. ‘‘To add to the com­plex­ity, the site is on the steep, earth­quake-prone slopes of windy Welling­ton, and site ac­cess is dread­ful, which was why it was af­ford­able.’’ The cou­ple hopes to achieve a high Homes­tar rat­ing, but blow the bud­get and fuel cal­cu­la­tions by hir­ing a he­li­copter to bring in a dig­ger. So ev­ery de­ci­sion Karl makes af­ter that has to be care­fully mea­sured ac­cord­ing to waste and sus­tain­abil­ity. In true pi­o­neer­ing spirit, there’s more em­pha­sis on ‘‘get­ting the house right’’ than get­ting it done.

Grand De­signs NZ, Three, Wed­nes­day 7.30pm.

Kevin McCloud speaks in Auck­land on Satur­day, Novem­ber 24, and Christchurch, Mon­day, Novem­ber 26.

Home­own­ers Karl and Amelie, seen here with ar­chi­tect Chris Moller of Grand De­signs NZ, build an af­ford­able house with all hands on deck in this week’s pro­gramme.

Kevin McCloud loves an ad­ven­tur­ous, ex­per­i­men­tal Grand De­signs build that cel­e­brates self-suf­fi­ciency.

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