Human+Nature

This is an existential crisis.

We must build a new world.

There is no role for business as usual.

So, how shall we live?

Why?

“The good Earth – we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.”

Kurt Vonnegut

The built environment is a leading cause of global environmental devastation – a deepening climate and ecological, and therefore human, catastrophe. This undermines the life-chances for our children and of generations to come.

The way places are planned and made today causes direct harm through land-hungry sprawl, careless construction and embeds yesterday’s infrastructure; it then profoundly shapes the way we live our lives, for good or ill.

There is no role for business as usual.

Real estate is one of the most conservative, least-disrupted sectors of the world economy; a classically extractive enterprise.

A new generation of impactful places and developments must displace – outcompete – others.

They outcompete as the new locations of choice for families, magnets for new, more strategic investment – with ethics as well as the discipline to support these transformative schemes – and the best planners, engineers, designers, ecologists, builders and technology businesses in the world.

Founded by two former Greenpeace directors with 50 years experience in the sustainable built environment, our purpose is to create a family of remarkable developments by 2030.

Our aim is to both build and inspire a new generation of sustainable places, providing much-needed new homes and enabling ways of living that meet the greatest challenges and seize the greatest opportunities of our age; to change forever perceptions about how communities thrive.

Action taken in the next 30 years is critical to stabilising the global climate, adapting to changes in temperature and rainfall already in train, eliminating air pollution, regenerating the living world, and rebuilding communities eroded by social division.

Human+Nature is acquiring land, planning, designing and building a new generation of remarkable places and communities fit for the 21st-century – new landmarks for a better world – as well as growing the movement for change. This is a new type of campaigning business.

“The power of place will be remarkable.”

Aristotle

houashfuaskjfnbkjbnkjbnsdkjbafkjh

Places

“Human + Nature knows how to pull the disparate parts together including a deep understanding of density and land use, an appreciation of public realm and what works, a knack and deep knowledge of architecture and what architecture to apply to specific types of development”

Dan Epstein – Useful Projects

A portfolio of outstanding place-projects is being assembled currently. These range from a 1000-home urban extension in the Chilterns with Aviva Investors – Little Haldens – a new community of 5000-homes in Norfolk and several others of intermediate scale. We are currently engaged in bidding for the opportunity to build a remarkable, sustainable urban neighbourhood in Lewes, East Sussex.

Remarkable Places

At Human+Nature we work at different scales, including new communities, urban and village extensions, urban neighbourhoods, intensifications and regeneration, mixed-use urban blocks, streets and mixed-use buildings.  

In the larger schemes we specify, plan and design for: characterful, compact, multi-purpose, walkable neighbourhoods that are a bespoke response to their geography – the precise genius loci of setting, geology, hydrology, climate and history. 

In our well-connected places people are freed from dependency on the car even as there will be convenient and well-run electric car, van and e-bike clubs; cycling and walking dominate as the obviously easy and typically faster ways of moving around for people meeting their everyday needs and streets are designed to facilitate this.  

In Remarkable Places the built blocks are typically short and have the benefit of fine-grained and arrhythmic plot expression with multiple inviting entrances, attractive frontages and elegant corners. There is necessary complexity within a coherent and legible overall pattern language.

We use shades and blinds for cooling and generate renewable energy in situ from PVs, ground source pumps, heat exchangers and bio-gas electricity. The buildings are super-efficient in terms of the energy they use with resilient fabric providing excellent thermal mass.   

Our neighbourhoods and larger blocks contain multiple house types in regard to size, configuration, design, price point and tenure; this is to be inclusive and optimise choice. There is a clear hierarchy of streets – some major streets such as tree-lined boulevards, others more intimate local streets and lanes which offer privacy and a sense of discovery. In each street type people are prioritised over vehicles and, because of the quality of urbanism, there is plentiful and vivacious life between buildings.

We provide local facilities and services such as general stores, cafés, co-working spaces, and a primary school and nursery to help meet local needs and avoid the need to travel far. These shared facilities invite active communities to form, neighbourliness to thrive and isolation to diminish. We also promote and enable a sharing and circular economy where resources are used efficiently and waste is minimised. 

Greenery is everywhere.

It softens the urbanity, provides colour and texture, soaks up excess rainfall, provides an at-hand supply of herbs and salads, is used for cooling, and critically provides niche habitats for urban ecology – especially insects and birdlife. 

North West Cambridge Designs for Human+Nature by FCB Studios, Mole, 5th Studio, Schulze + Grassov, Atelier 10 and AKF.

How shall we live?

We need modes of being and living that will help stabilise the climate, heal and regenerate nature, stimulate new learning and critical reasoning, and create social relations and spaces that reduce isolation and enable people to flourish: we call it ‘sustainable and healthy living’ for short. 

If we can conceive and design a model for sustainable and healthy living then we are better able to design Remarkable Places that can inspire and enable it. In fact places impact our lives in very many different ways, seen and unseen, for good or ill; as things stand it is mostly for ill in terms of dangerous air pollution, car-dominated un-safe streets, unhealthy buildings and poor urbanism in which it is simply not pleasurable or sometimes even safe to walk. 

Courtyard Block for Human+Nature by FCB Studios

So, what are the principal components of a sustainable and healthy lifestyle:

The great American essayist and poet, Wendell Berry, speaks of ‘health, pleasure and freedom’. Amartya Sen sees the deep purpose being to do with enabling people to fulfil their capabilities and of reducing injustices to clear the way for this to happen. Maslow ranked ‘safety’ and ‘shelter’ as the basics in a ‘hierarchy of needs’ and worked his way up to ‘self-actualisation’. And there is a growing literature on ‘happiness’ which identifies the importance of social connections – bridges and bonds between people – of reducing isolation as a leading cause of depression and ill-health. Others say that we are biophilic such that in order to thrive we need to be in regular contact with nature.  

The new component in all of this, and the one that is seldom addressed – either through ignorance, absence of compulsion or lack of passion and imagination – is the imperative of low environmental impact living.

Which is to say, how can we urgently shift to collective and individual lifestyles that are within our planetary means and do not create or perpetuate climate catastrophe and the mass destruction of the natural world?

Lifestyles that do not cost the earth. 

In fact, we need go further and address not just how we can do less harm and ask instead how we can regenerate the natural world and climate while rebuilding society and the quality of life and opportunities for all to flourish? This thinking leads to carbon positive neighbourhoods, stronger communities, sharing and circular economies, localised food-growing and ‘making’.

This is why we need a new generation of truly Remarkable Places.

And we need these at different scales, from bioregion, to city, town and neighbourhood, from village to urban block and street and even at the level of individual building plots. 

The Human+Nature Framework for Remarkable Places

In Human+Nature we have developed a framework for Remarkable Places – a system we apply across all our work in planning and design, stewardship of assets and in measuring IMPACT. 

This framework has six principal components:

  • Better Together: inclusion; deliberation; good engagement processes; building trust; creating shared space
  • Footprint, Circularity & Intentionality: questioning our impact on the world; acting together to establish shared values across communities to make a positive, regenerative impact; growing the new green economy
  • Whole Life Value: adaptability and resilience; whole-life costs and externalities; capturing long term value and incentivising investors of all kinds to obtain rewards from this rather than short termism and over-simplification
  • Beyond Green: using scarce land wisely; building compact settlements; abundant greenery (and blue); productive landscapes; regenerative farming and local food; practical conservation with public participation 
  • Faster, Greener, Smarter: great streets; mixed, fine-grained land-uses; the walkable neighbourhood; cycling; car freedom; EVs of all kinds; clean air
  • Place & Well-Being: the system efficiencies of good urban design/place-making; integration; genius loci; layering and complexity; inclusion and choice; prospect and refuge; safety; and plentiful social spaces. 

Street design, North West Cambridge, for Human+Nature by Schulze + Grassov

Little Haldens in the Gomm Valley, Buckinghamshire promises to be the greenest and most elegant new place in England. It comprises nearly 1,000 new homes arranged in three ‘villages’ in a mixed-use community set mostly along the sinuous hills to the western edge of the valley. 

The Gomm Valley Community Engagement and Design Event took place over the 29th June – 1st July. The planning application was submitted in February 2019 and we expect it to be determined in early 2020. The Design and Access Statement and full planning application can be found here.

“It will be an era of creative destruction, fundamental redesign, testing of orthodoxies, experimentation, shift of economic value between actors, and overall high penalties for laggards. To get there we need a set of new design principles replacing the old ones, a plan for to manage the tipping points ahead of us, and we need real leadership instead of management.”

A Good Disruption – Stuchtey, Enkvist, Zumwinkel

How?

“Human+Nature start by shaping the process before they shape the place – first by cultivating the project team and the relationships which help to make great projects. They work through ‘deep collaboration’, establishing open and frank dialogue about the types of quality of places we want to live in and make, basing the results on evidence and knowledge as much as poetry and ‘wit’.”

James Hampton – Periscope

We need a new generation of inspiring places that point towards the better future. These will work to different values, new models of investment, partnership and collaboration and together provide insights, learning and can-do optimism as we enter the most challenging episode of human history.

Human+Nature homes

As John Turner said, ‘It’s not what housing is but what it does in people’s lives that’s important ’. We are all different.

We are individuals and citizens, not consumers, and we look for housing we can afford; that gives us safety and security; in which we can invest our love, our time and our money; places we can raise families, host our friends and that can adapt to our changing circumstances; home that delight us and where we store and cherish the artefacts of a life well-lived. 

North West Cambridge by Human + Nature

Three principles and modes underpin Human+Nature housing:

Diversity and choice: multiple tenures, sizes, configurations, designs and price points so that there is something for everyone; that we offer places and homes for all to start out in life and, as lives and circumstances change, a place to stay if they wish. 

Raw+Craft: that we design and construct simple, strong, resilient, natural structures across our portfolio of typologies that via their inherent quality are a sound investment. The materials are not only low carbon but with sound maintenance are long-lasting and will age with grace. They will endure the ‘hard swerves of usage’ and enable constant adaptation.

Our houses are loose-fit, with broken-plan layouts and minimal fit-out. You, our future customer, will decide the look and feel. The materials we use are good enough to be left ‘raw;’ and with the money saved from the repeated use of disciplined typologies and well-resolved supply chain, we offer a ‘craft finish’ to give that extra human touch and distinctive feel. 

Deep Collaboration: that the process of conceiving, designing and building our homes is rigorous and trans-disciplinary from beginning to end. Our IMPACT specialists work with our marketing experts who in turn engage future customers across our core markets; the architects and engineers work with our builders and all operate within a cost and value envelope provided by our appraisal team. This way of working, shamelessly copied from Steve Jobs, ensures incredible product – elegant and functional homes – at prices people can afford. 

Working with a network of aligned investors and outstanding partners, we will demonstrate how to house people and businesses well, grow resilience and agility in our communities and productivity in our economies.

We will demonstrate how to eliminate waste and pollution, mitigate and adapt deeply to the global climate crisis and regenerate the living world.

The Hethel Project

A Human+Nature with Glavenhill project

H+N and Glavenhill made a submission to the Greater Norwich Local Plan for a new ‘Garden Village’ at Hethel in South Norfolk.

Our proposals are for c6000 new homes in a highly productive, regenerated landscape. The proposals are founded in the following ideas and principles:

Illustrative Masterplan.

Radical Affordability: to provide c5000 affordable homes – i.e. at prices that ordinary families and households can afford even as the place will also appeal to people who can choose to live wherever they like.

Speed of Delivery: to deliver these new homes at breakneck speed to meet housing need but also in fulfilment of the wider objectives (see below) of this innovative project.

Raw+Craft Modern Methods: deploying H+N’s raw+craft philosophy and methodology to the design and engineering/construction of inherently adaptable houses that can establish super-efficient and inexpensive supply chains, simple yet robust and appealing forms of building with embodied planning that enables them to be added to and re-configured over time; the beautiful homes – available in several different typologies – will typically be constructed in engineered timber, assembled in kits made on site, and completed with by-hand, craft finishes.

A Network of Villages: Hethel will be built as a patchwork of villages that are gradually stitched together over time to make the whole place. This enables speed of delivery, reinforces character and the genius loci of particular situations across the site, gives buyers (and renters) the early experience of belonging in a complete village context rather than a never-ending meta ‘development’ and grows social and community relationships from then outset.

Examples of Garden Village Clusters

A centre of Destination Attractions: In the early stages a suite of destination attractions will be created (per the diagram above). Each attraction will hold appeal to people – future customers – from far and wide rather than be dependent only on people living at Hethel itself. These attractions include a hotel, spa, well-being and conference/meetings; destination restaurant, food gardens and food hub; new re-wilded landscapes; the evolving town park; a visitor ‘white bike’ system that invites visitors to travel around the network of cycle lanes and to and from attractions by bike (including electric bikes and cargo bikes); a Filed Studies Centre for Living World and Sustainability education; a Kids’ Extreme Zone for adventure fitness and play. Over time, these attractions will be woven into the town centre with a conventional, if people-centred high street, apartments, offices, retail, a secondary school and so on.

Employment: Jobs will be provided in the on-site house assembly factories, in craft finishing, in renewable energy and other sustainable technology enterprises, in the sustainable food and farming economy and in the destination attractions. These will blend with the existing employment in the innovative car plant, in the Innovations Centres and at Goff. In time these elements will combine to make Hethel a go-to location for all kinds of purpose-led, stakeholder businesses and at different scales. Hethel also sits, well-placed, in the Norwich-Cambridge Tech Corridor.

Landscape Setting: to work with the existing mature landscape setting to reinvigorate habitats, make strategic ecological connections, re-wild where appropriate, enhance biodiversity and pioneer small-scale intensive regenerative agriculture for employment, food security, quality of life, and to demonstrate local farming and food culture adapted to a rapidly changing climate.

Resilience: this project will pioneer new approaches to public health and well-being, sustainable food and economy, construction and stewardship, inspiring and enabling essential resilience across the piece.

Intergenerational housing and place: Hethel will also provide a home for an exciting new intergenerational community.

H+N and Glavenhill are supported in this fantastic project by a team of outstanding professional designers, engineers, project managers. Lead designers are Periscope and EFFEKT, the latter from Copenhagen in Denmark where similar projects to Hethel are in planning currently.

The next step is to promote the project with political, business, community and education leaders in Norfolk. This will be a highly collaborative project, bringing together talent and resources from across the region and binding it into the future success of the emerging sustainable economy.

Watch this space for more information.

Backstory

Backstory: poachers turned gamekeepers (or the other way around?)

Our route to becoming a developer is long and probably a bit boring, so we’ll keep it short. We began as campaigners, became advisers to landowners, investors, government and developers, tried ‘development’ in a JV with a mainstream property PLC, then settled upon being campaigning developers and development managers. Are we poachers turned gamekeepers or the other way around?

Human+Nature’s roots are in direct action environmental campaigns. The Founders were both directors and international trustees of Greenpeace.

Now, more than 30 years later, making remarkable places where social and environmental IMPACT can be achieved in multiple and quire profound ways, has become our campaign. Hopefully we bring the same passion, urgency and imagination to the task.   

A brief, reverse chronological account of our origins and work:

  • 2017-current: Little Haldens, Gomm Valley – 1,000 homes in a new sustainable community in a beautiful Chiltern Valley
  • September 2019-current: 5,000 home new, intentional, radically affordable community in Norfolk 
  • November 2019-current: Shortlisted developer for a sustainable urban neighbourhood in Lewes – part regeneration, part new community
  • August 2019-current: special adviser to North Essex Garden Communities, 40,000 homes 
  • 2016-2018: Little Holland, a 2,000-home, mixed-use, riverside scheme in Norwich
  • 2012-2014: Phase 1 private residential development, North-West Cambridge. Placed 2nd in developer competition. 
  • 2012-2017: secured political support and community buy-in to the 8,000 -home first phase of Manydown in Hampshire
  • 2009-2013: Beeston Park, outline planning consent for 3,500 homes in a mixed-use urban extension to Norwich 
  • 2012-2015: 21st-Century Urban Neighbourhoods for Grosvenor
  • 2012-2015: Framework Masterplan for 12,000 home, mixed-use urban neighbourhood in London for Grosvenor
  • 2012-2013: Sustainability futures for Argent
  • 2010-2015: Sustainability, masterplanning and public realm work for Capco at Earls Court
  • 2010-2012: All public consultation and sustainability strategy for the London 2012 Olympic Legacy
  • 2006-2011: All public consultation on the London 2012 Olympic Park and Venues 
  • 2006-2010: Sustainability strategy for Audi (UK), the Premier League, Interface stores
  • 2006-2010: Development strategy and plans for redundant sites for Northumbrian, Essex and Suffolk Water
  • 2006-2007: Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan for the City of Manchester
  • 2006-2007: public consultations and framework designs for the Scottish & Newcastle Brewery site for the City of Newcastle
  • 2006: Visioning for the City of Newcastle
  • 2004-2006: Master planning and community engagement for Walker Riverside for the City of Newcastle and PfP
  • 2002-2005: Harlow North – a 25,000 home urban extension for the BP pension fund with the Prince’s Foundation and Savills
  • 2002-2005: Sustainability and place-making support to New East Manchester (regeneration company)
  • 2001-2003: Sustainable development strategy and action plan for the Housing Corporation and guide to sustainable development for Housing Associations
  • 2001-2002: UK strategy for the public understanding of climate change; building a consortium of groups and businesses, setting the ambition and plan 
  • 1990-2000: The Earth Centre, National Millennium project
  • 1996-1999: Advisory Board, World EXPO 2000 (sustainability theme)
  • 1990-2000: Greenpeace UK HQ – the first green refurbishment of a commercial office in the UK
  • 1994-1998: Deputy Director General ICLEI, United Nations
  • 1976-1990: Directors and International Trustees, Greenpeace.

The cafe at The Earth Centre

Visions for a Remarkable City

If government really was going to plan and build 1,000,000 new homes in the Oxford Cambridge ‘corridor’ how would you do this sustainably? This was a question asked of us by Defra’s ‘Commission for Sustainable Business’,

So, we said, ‘build a city’. Build the world’s most sustainable city (the size of Copenhagen), connect it well, bathe it in strategic green and blue infrastructure, re-wilded zones and regenerative local agriculture, and bring in 100 developers to create a dense network of walkable urban villages.

We invited 50 architects, engineers, landscapers and sustainability folk to the wonderful studios of our good friends – architect’s FeildenCleggBradley (thank you Peter and Keith) – to see if we could crack it in an afternoon. We couldn’t of course, but a wealth of ideas and smashing drawings emerged.

Impact

Real estate is not an end itself. It is a means – a tool – to help us shape a sustainable future and give people improved life chances.

Human+Nature has developed a planning, monitoring and evaluation framework for IMPACT with the Useful Simple Trust.

Our six principles of remarkable places will help demonstrate real and measurable impacts that only whole places and infrastructures can achieve.

“Sustainability – the greatest investment opportunity of all time.”

Hubert Keller, Managing Partner, Lombard Odier

Photography @ Nikki Osborne

‘Abundant Green’ Illustration @ Grant Designs

Videos by Serkan Cetin at Sunrise Film Collective

Additional designs by Mae, FCB Studios, Mole, 5th Studio, Schulze + Grassov, Atelier 10, AKT, Kjellander Sjöberg, Periscope, Urban Movement, Ash Sakula, and Expedition.

Images featured in Stanfield Garden Villages Vision and Delivery include work by Bernardo Bader Architeken, Primus Architects, Paul Massey, BC+A Architects, Valentin Wormbs,  Cavill Architects, MNy Arkitekter, In2 architecture, CMC architects, Newhaus.de, Caleb Johnson Studio and Robert Paulsen.