Human Nature was founded by Jonathan Smales and Michael Manolson who were directors and international trustees of Greenpeace in the 1980s. Post Greenpeace they consulted widely, as Human Nature, with major businesses, investors, international agencies, government and local authorities, which has resulted in pioneering work on green buildings, energy and sustainable construction. Human Nature has now moved into development.
The company believes that new approaches are needed to create better places, social inclusion and development. Better designs, economic models and protocols are needed to support the required shift to sustainable ways of living.
Human Nature have now proposed a major development The Phoenix in Lewes Sussex. The proposed development is to create a new neighbourhood on a 7.9HA site within the South Downs National Park on the banks of the River Ouse, that responds to the climate and natural challenges we all face by turning these challenges into opportunities for better design, better placemaking and healthier living. The development is planned to prioritise people over cars, be powered by renewable energy and designed to encourage a culture of sharing, it represents a new and regenerative way to make a place and create a more productive local economy fit for the 21st century.
The development will transform a neglected brownfield site into a beautiful, green place, providing the town with much-needed homes and jobs, community spaces, a river walk, flood defences and health centre. At the heart of the neighbourhood will be a series of public squares connecting to a community canteen, event hall, taproom, fitness centre, workspace and makers’ studios, much of which will be housed within repurposed industrial structures.
The Phoenix will be particularly notable for its use of structural timber, which will be used on all new buildings on site, with one exception. Engineered timber offers the structural strength of ‘traditional’ materials, such as concrete and steel, but with lower embodied carbon. In fact, timber sourced from sustainable, well-managed forests is regenerative – it sequesters carbon, giving timber structure buildings a negative carbon impact overall. Some of the timber will come from Sussex woodlands. The scheme is also conducting an audit to reveal what site materials can be reused in building structures, such as steel trusses and cladding, brick walls and buttressing, and what can be recycled for ‘cut and fill’ (to level and landscape the site) or reconstituted as bricks
The Phoenix development comprises 18 different housing blocks designed by 13 different architects including Mae Architects, Ash Sakula and Charles Holland. Other firms on the project team include Arup, masterplanners Periscope, environmental engineers Atelier Ten and timber specialists Whitby Wood.. This rich mix gives the neighbourhood diversity, character and housing choice. The homes are primarily apartments – not apartments as we have come to know them in the UK, but solid, natural, double-aspect homes where air circulates well and natural daylight illuminates the space.
The Phoenix will embrace its position at the edge of the Ouse, opening up the riverfront to Lewes. A boardwalk will run the length of the Phoenix, north and south into the surrounding town. It will widen in the centre, where elevated gardens, the Belvedere, will provide a place to sit and take in views of the river and Downs.
The scheme seeks to ‘capture the radical spirit of Lewes and enhance its extraordinary landscape’.
The Phoenix site is bigger than most sites in Guildford at 7.9HA. The plans in Shaping Guildford’s Future for the Bedford Wharf area in the town cover approximately 3.75HA. The North Street site is about 1.6HA.
The Scheme will provide 700 Dwellings, 3,300 Sq/M of workspace, a £15M contribution to Flood defences, 17% of the housing will be affordable, and a new pedestrian bridge over the river. The scheme is estimated to cost £430Million. (For comparison the Guildford North Street development has a development cost of circa £250M-£300M for 470 Dwellings.)
A Society recently visited a public exihibition in Lewes on the scheme. Points noted on the visit include:
Towards the foot of the of the document list Parcel 1 provides details of the proposed block.
Lewes has a many parallels to Guildford. Both are Gap Towns with flooding issues, both have historic cores with high streets leading to a the river, both had industrialisation along the riverside in Victorian times, both are county towns, and both have traffic issues as by-passes are limited to one side of the town.
The proposals in Lewes are worth looking at as they do provide ideas for Guildford.
It will be interesting to see how this scheme progresses through planning and development. The full Design and Access statment is available here.
The South downs National Park the planning authority for the scheme, have not as yety approved the scheme. They have raised a series of questions which it hoped can be resolved over the summer. The National Park have noted in their letter which can be found on the planning portal that:
"We continue to be excited about the concept and principles behind the application. We applauded what Human Nature are trying to achieve with their proposal and remain broadly supportive of the concept and bold initiative being explored. There are some concerns over massing and scale in key parts of the application site, phasing, clarity of objective and some viability issues but the principle of increasing density is accepted."
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