The Phoenix neighbourhood: 20 principles that inform the project

There are 20 principles that inform the Phoenix Project, Human Nature’s plan for a new neighbourhood in Lewes; these are brought together in a research document called, ‘The Blueprint Principles’ This guide to beautiful and sustainable placemaking is informed by many years of studying best practice and precedents from around the world – we use it to continually assess our work and brief our design team particularly now as we move towards a refined masterplan.You can read more about the project here

“The best indicator for happiness is the quality of our relationships with other people”

– Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen

1. The five-minute neighbourhood
A place where most daily needs can be met within a short walk or cycle, five-minute neighbourhoods prioritise people over vehicles. At the Phoenix, amenities such as cafes, shops, workspace, green space and community services are provided within a walkable distance from homes, reducing the need for cars and creating cleaner, safer and more sociable environments. 

2. Life between buildings
A healthy and sustainable way of life is enabled and inspired through the design of the streets, which are crafted to allow pedestrians and cyclists to move around easily and safely, both in the central spine of the neighbourhood and in the more intimate streets and lanes. Public squares create sociable, flexible spaces where people can wander, sit and linger. Our work here is inspired by the great Danish architect and writer, Jan Gehl, whose most famous book is called, Life Between Buildings

3. Bike culture 
The Phoenix neighbourhood will be designed to allow cyclists of all ages and abilities to get around safely, efficiently and enjoyably. Bike culture supports, encourages and facilitates the use of bicycles as a primary mode of travel – through car-free streets and bike paths that connect to the wider town, bike racks, storage and a repair shop. 

4. Raw & Craft
Both a philosophy and a practical methodology for designing, manufacturing and finishing homes safely, without waste and to a budget, Raw & Craft is grounded in the idea that homes should fundamentally be well-made, strong, resilient and robust with materials of outstanding quality that can be left ‘raw’. Not only low carbon, the materials are long-lasting and will age with grace. The customer can then choose the way they want the spaces fitted out and finished and the more industrial manufacture of the raw structures and buildings are then complemented by more personal and even ‘craft’ finishes. 

5. Youthfulness
We intend to build neighborhoods where young people want to be, have a genuine sense of belonging and can flourish into adulthood. At the Phoenix, we will design a multi-purpose sports and recreation venue, create local jobs and provide affordable housing to give the next generation a chance. We will ensure it is a safe place by minimising cars, while courtyard gardens and other shared spaces will allow young children to play together in sight of family and neighbours. 

6. New heritage
Lewes has been described as a ‘box of toys’ by, referring to the distinct variety of architectural styles nestled together within a coherent and sophisticated street structure – arguably, its beauty comes from these juxtapositions. In the 2020s, we must build buildings that have the physical properties to endure and are cherished by future inhabitants in the same way as these beloved historic buildings, responding to new issues such as scarcity of land, the far higher cost of labour, new materials, ecological breakdown and new working patterns. 

7. Shared living
The Phoenix will foster a culture of sharing: a community that grows through the process of exchanging objects and ideas. We must facilitate shared living through the innovative design of buildings and spaces that promote social interaction and togetherness, while promoting a circular economy where resources are used efficiently and waste is minimised. 

8. Upcycling & repair
Real estate is responsible for approximately 40% of the global raw material consumption and 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions. A range of solutions are needed, including the upcycling of existing waste materials that would otherwise have been discarded. Among others, Lendager Group’s Upcycle Studios and Resource Rows have shown the way – upcycling concrete, brick façades, wood façades, wood floorings and windows. We must repair and reuse where we can – from construction materials to basic utensils. One of our advisers, architect Duncan Baker-Brown, refers to this as, ‘mining the anthropocene’. 

9. Making space
The Phoenix has long been a centre for creativity. The Making Space principle recognises the history of the site: from the John Every Ironworks to the numerous artist studios, workshops, design businesses and venues from over the years. The Phoenix will celebrate, cultivate and provide a(nother) home for the town’s creative communities with plentiful maker spaces and supporting facilities. 

10. Elegance, wit & imperfection
These three characteristics are key ingredients in the creation of a new generation of beautiful, engaging neighbourhoods. In streets, we believe that elegance comes from a coherent and legible urban form with a clear hierarchy of foreground and background buildings of human scale. However, facades should embrace idiosyncrasies, colour, texture and variety – the more artistic and individual, characterful expression of many different designers and residents who adapt their own neighbourhood. 

11. A community that grows 
We want to craft places that enable communities to grow and flourish. The Phoenix will be a social place that encourages interaction: from a well-positioned bench that provides a spot to watch the daily movement of life on the street, to a shared garden or a particularly inviting threshold, it will be a place built for people. But, as with the famous urban farming and market project, ‘Growing Communities’ in Stoke Newington, London, Phoenix is about food and the way it can bring people together. We are proposing an urban farm, local cafes and restaurant and a network of regenerative farming suppliers enhancing the South Downs ecosystem.  

12. Weave & stitch
Weave and Stitch considers the process of integrating the new neighbourhood with the existing epicentre of Lewes. We envisage the Phoenix to be an extension of the town, to stitch into the Lewes that people know and love. We will identify and distill the distinctive features of the town and the historic use of the Phoenix site, weaving these aspects into the new neighbourhood. 

13. Super green
The new neighbourhood will be profoundly green: enveloped by an abundant and productive greenery of trees, community gardens, green roofs and corridors. Greenery will coexist with the built environment, not only softening the buildings and providing colour and texture but sustaining and enhancing biodiversity, providing a space for local wildlife to thrive.

14. Vitality & refuge
This principle stems from the ‘Prospect-Refuge’ theory: the balance between a lively and public realm alongside access to an intimate private space. The Phoenix will foster both aspects: interesting and characterful public spaces that are convivial and neighbourly alongside a proportion of private, defensible space. 

15. Mind, body spirit and health 
This principle speaks to our dedication to encouraging and supporting physical and mental health for residents and visitors to the Phoenix. The services and spaces that enable this way of living will be situated across the Phoenix development, encouraging active lifestyles, while tackling loneliness, social isolation, depression and poor nutrition. 

16. A river flows 
The river Ouse flows by the Phoenix site, meaning the urban environment will be directly responsive to the natural landscape. The river will be integrated into the design of the site establishing a distinctive sense of place: notably, a new bridge – the Thomas Paine bridge – will join a raised riverside walkway (the ‘Belvedere’), creating new views of the river and the Downs. 

17. Inside out
Volume house builders are formulaic in the way they plan and design interiors of new homes, creating a dearth of choice in the property market. What works for one person in terms of layout, space and style, doesn’t for the next: we must adopt a people-led approach, encouraging architects and designers to consider the inside experience of homes – asking people how they want to live and indeed which layouts and fitouts best support healthy and sustainable living. ‘Broken plan’ and flexible interiors allow rooms to be adapted as a household’s composition changes over time and the resident’s needs and tastes change. 

18. Commonwealth
The Phoenix will have a localist approach: recognising and cultivating assets within Lewes and the surrounding area. This means working collaboratively to foster inclusion and to provide fair employment – bringing more economic power to local people. 

19. Housing choice 
Successful regeneration requires mixed communities: neighbourhoods that appeal to individuals and families with a broad range of incomes. Meanwhile, unsettled communities exist where residents frequently move away, diminishing social ties. By building affordable housing and compact apartments, as well as larger properties and those at higher price points, we create happy and truly mixed communities, where people can move but stay within the neighbourhood as their needs change.  

20. Openhouse
This principle is influenced by a social trend, mostly in Spain and Italy, whereby people invite a wide group of neighbours into their home to enjoy food, music and conversation, as well as the traditional British street party. By providing areas that can be used communally, we hope to encourage and stimulate this breaking of bread, facilitating opportunities for a neighbourhood to come together.