We do not inherit the earth from our fathers, we borrow it from our children.Chinese proverb
Kevin McCloud is the presenter of Grand Designs in Britain, a popular show about building and planning homes that has spawned an equally popular Australian version on Foxtel.
McCloud was here in Sydney as the keynote speaker for Grand Designs Live, last week's home show sponsored by the Australian arm of the series.
We sat down with McCloud just after his opening address on October 24 and he passionately, eloquently explained the urgent practicality of sustainability, something most of us hold dear and are fearful of in equal measure.
In a nutshell, his message was, and is, in the words of the Chinese proverb: "We do not inherit the earth from our fathers, we borrow it from our children."
And, he hastened to add, eco-sustainability makes sense — you get more money for beer and holidays!
I asked him about the very word "Grand". It's aspirational and often what we aim for when we plan a new home or renovate an old one. But the reality is very different. When we're at home in our new house, or room/s, what we want is something personal, warm and friendly, not so much grand . . .
''And we want it beautiful, and crafted, and personal, as you say, but also of quality. And so 'grand' for my mind doesn't mean big-budget or massive floorplan. To be honest, it's cheap and easy to go large. It's easy to spend money on volume. What's really hard is producing a beautiful well-crafted object for not much money and that requires the application of genius.
"And the weird thing is, yeah, we’re all capable of it, we're all just a bit lazy. It's easy to spend, yeah? It's noteasy to think. It's easy to invest in ready-made. It's a bit like food. It's hard to craft a beautiful meal, it's really easy to go out and spend money on something ready-made. It's satisfying for a moment but cooking is pleasurable in itself and the result is love that’s shared. You make something, you're actually crafting something which is contributing to human relationships, towards an experience which people will never forget, which improves the quality` of humanity, not just your life but everybody's. I never apologise for championing quality and often the quality I champion is produced on a real budget.
"Grand Designs is about making and building and it’s about doing so with big visions, grand visions,"
'Grand' doesn't mean big-budget or massive floorplan. To be honest, it's cheap and easy to go large. It's easy to spend money on volume. What's really hard is producing a beautiful well-crafted object for not much money and that requires genius.
Sustainability can be problematic. It's aspirational for renovators and home designers. Most of us would sign off on sustainability in an aspirational way but often we might treat it as not always very practical, or affordable, however desirable it might be. If we want to focus on sustainability where do we start on a limited budget?
"First of all, sustainability is not something you buy in a box and bolt on. It's a way of thinking, it’s a way of making and doing and living and consuming which respects the limits of the world’s resources. I follow a set of ideas called 'one planet living' which takes lots of objectives like zero-carbon, zero-waste and other ecological objectives together with lots of human objectives. Like better-quality built environment, heritage, welfare, health, happiness; how we integrate the planet, its resources, its habitats, its flora and fauna and us together in a way that allows our children and our grandchildren and great-great grandchildren to still have the choices we have. We're currently not doing that. We're currently consuming between three and five planets' worth of resources at the rate we're going.
At the rate we're going, we're consuming between three and five planets' worth of resources.
"What we need to do is rein in, share more, and think about how we reduce the carbon and environmental footprint in what we do. Actually, I’m really mindful of the fact — and I build houses and housing schemes for a living — and we put in things like car clubs and shared gardening allotments and shared poly-tunnels for growing fruit and we put in shared play space — and maybe one shed between five houses, with one chainsaw, one lawnmower, and we use public libraries as places to share transportation, power tools, other resources and information.
"What this means is people then have to buy less of it. We say to our residents when we build these homes, it's good for the planet and it's good for all of us. It’s good for you because you get to be able to drive that car when you need it without having to buy it. You get more money in your pocket from living in an eco home that costs very little to heat and light, where you don't have to buy one of everything that you need.
Kevin talks about sustainability . . .
"You get more money for beer and holidays! For me it's win-win. I see it not just in architecture and in buildings but also in the spaces between buildings; as much as in the public realm, in business, in politics as in people's lives.
"There's a great quote which underpins all this, a Chinese proverb: 'We do not inherit the earth from our fathers, we borrow it from our children.' We need to be changing the way we live. But changing in ways that I don’t think mean a reduction in choices but a moving of the goalposts and actually a widening of choices — just a different set of choices."
We need to change the way we live, not by reducing choices but by moving the goalposts and widening choices — just different choices.
'So, how does the average family live a more sustainable life relatively affordably. One thing you don’t do is go out and buy expensive solar panels and bolt them on. Men love to do that 'cos it's all about the engineering. But you don't do that. What you do is make sure your house, if it's cold in winter, is well insulated, draft-proofed, conserving the energy, and in summer you might alter the building very slightly to make sure there's cross-ventilation through the building. You can open two small windows for example or a vent at the top and a small window below to get air cooling and running through the building.
"I know people who built a small garden pond against which they put a small low-down window and they put this on the side where the wind generally comes from, the prevailing side, and if they then open a little hatch or small window on the first floor of the building or on the opposite side of the building they get a breeze drawn into the building across the water which humidifies the breeze and cools the building; so you get free air-conditioning.
"The thing about air-conditioning and heating — we think they're really clever but they're really dumb! You can take a glass box and a concrete box stick them anywhere on the planet and live in them if you put enough fossil fuel into them. The cool thing, the intelligent thing, is to live comfortably in buildings anywhere on the planet without fossil fuel, using what's available to heat and cool the building. You can retro-fit insulation, it's possible to draft-proof, it’s possible to put all kinds of measures into helping buildings perform a little bit better.
We think air-conditioning and heating are really clever, but they're really dumb!
"But that's only part of the story. In the end it's not just about buying Fair Trade produce, not even buying a slightly smaller-engined hybrid car; it's better to get together with 30 neighbours and say let's start a car club. So instead of three cars per family you can have two. Or maybe one. Or maybe actually none, if you decide to bicycle a bit, take public transport and when you need the car just use the car club.
"These clubs are an amazingly cheap way of running a car — the average car costs between $2000 and $4000 a year just to keep on the road. Car clubs, electric bike clubs are really taking off all over Europe. They're a great way of making big savings. Our family carbon footprints tend to divide roughly 50-50 with the running costs of heating, lighting and cooling a home and the running costs of the car. Think about that." ❏
The home show has now finished.
■ Highlights from Grand Designs Live in Domain: Your Home across Fairfax community newspapers:
Interview with Australia's Peter Maddison, presenter of Grand Designs Australia, on the need for "honesty" in building materials.
Examples of this among the Grand Designs Live exhibitors:
- natural rocks and stone with a myriad uses
- real flames in new-designed home heaters
- stunning and unusual but easily-used shrubs and plants
- making use of dead space with attic conversions
- solar panels with solar-powered inverters installed away from the hot roof
- beautiful recycled wood for panelling
- natural sandstone crafted into wall tiles and panelling
- rustic floor coverings made from banana fibres that will last a lifetime
- stunning, aromatic herb gardens to cover your wall (!) with inbuilt drip-feed watering
■ see also | GRAND DESIGNS LIVE interview with Peter Maddison | VIDEOS, PHOTOS
■ Read Ian's other interviews and reviews:
Tom Skerritt for Picket Fences: Those awkward moments when fans say they love his stinkers! | VIDEO, AUDIO, GALLERY
James Cromwell for Rupert: The human face of one of the world's most powerful men | VIDEO, AUDIO, GALLERY
Anthony Callea for Ladies & Gentlemen, the Songs of George Michael: Ladies and gentlemen, Anthony Calles | VIDEO, GALLERY
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