Talking with Kevin

As an architect, I’m keen to learn more about the world around me. It seems at the moment so much is changing, at both a heart-racing and a glacial pace.. People are more digitally connected, and yet feeling more isolation and loneliness. Automation is making our lives ‘easier’ but also taking away options for future careers, products and services. Every product we could want is available to purchase at the click of a button from the computer in our pocket while traditional, unique, brick-and-mortar businesses are closing. And we are experiencing the absolutely-not-surprising detrimental effects of climate change, while our political leaders refuse to step forward and enact the change we are so desperately requesting.

Delivering his own brand of cultural understanding, came a ray of sunshine and hope in the form of Kevin McCloud, host of the UK version of Grand Designs. I attended his ‘The World According to Kevin’ show in Brisbane last week where he captivated us for three hours with his musings on life, architecture, culture and the environment.

I enjoyed hearing of Kevin’s early years, with maker parents who built (parts of) their house, billy carts on weekends, clothes and furnishings. How different life was then, where we had so much more appreciation of objects and things, because we appreciated the personal connection created by our own personal efforts. Where childhood experiences were created in local villages, and children were supervision-less until sundown, when they’d return home for dinner. We can’t go back to those days, life and society has moved on. So how do we take the benefits of those times and translate them to today?

While I appreciate what Kevin has done for architecture and design in giving a platform for the ‘bespoke’ home construction process, it does show the problems with the house building industry, much as other reality shows do. In comparison to shows like The Block or House Rules, where vital elements of construction and decision-making are rushed, and there is so much waste produced just for views, Grand Designs shows the complete other end of the scale – where projects consistently go way over budget and time and people lacking experience take on unguided roles themselves, risking everything for ‘the dream’. The nuances of our industry means that architectural projects more often sit in the middle (hopefully) tying together the achievable aspects of people’s dreams and appropriate cost and time pressures. Grand Designs, and Kevin’s incredible skilled narration of it, show how people invest in architecture to improve, change or enhance their lives, even if it is occasionally more dramatic than normal, as that is what viewers of reality TV usually demand.

I am impressed by Kevin’s commitment within this industry to try to create a more sustainable world. On the show he often implores the guests to make more responsible and reasonable choices, and is critical of the trend towards larger and more extravagant McMansions. I have read his book Principles of Home many times, and appreciate his views towards using only ‘just enough’ when we create and consume.

During his talk, Kevin shared his ideas on how we are currently relating to our consumerist society, and the impact our society is having on our environment. I liked how he shared the story of buying cushions for the home. You can go to a standard homewares store and buy a $10 cushion, but what are you actually buying? Are you buying mothers, separated from their families, working in dangerous conditions for less than a dollar a day? Are you buying cloth made by poisoning the land and wasting our resources? The cushions that Kevin has chosen for his house are hand-made by a person that he has met, from threads that he has individually chosen. It is beholden on all of us, at this juncture in society and with a potential climate crisis looming, to be responsible in our consumerism.

In the three hour show, he covered so much ground, from his upbringing, to modernism, to consumerism, to respecting our environment. He is an incredible public speaker and could probably talk on anything while the audience as we sit there enthralled. We concluded the show with a public pledge to appreciate, understand and protect our environment. While its slightly awkward to communally pledge in a large crowd, it was a good message for us to cement into our own consciousness, that we cannot continue to live like this, and ignore the consequences.

If you have the opportunity to see his current show I highly recommend it. I was so grateful to receive this as my Christmas present this year!

And to see what my friend Rachael thought of the Perth show and some actionable change you can undertake to make our world a better place, check out her blog post here.

Happy (grand) designing!

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