The Positive+ Collective
“When you buy from a small business an actual person does a little dance.”
Wow, wow, wow! I am so excited because a few months ago, an ex-colleague from my Arup London days – the brilliant Adrian Campbell of changebuilding – asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to a design competition and… together with another new fantastic connection Patrick Usborne (Perpendicular Architecture), we spent a few months exchanging ideas, on Slack, via email and videoconference. We worked together remotely – this was always going to be the case as we’re scattered in different parts of the country, regardless of the devastating pandemic… We modelled, sketched and did back of envelope calculations, drafted words and edited documents. And guess what… we were shortlisted!!!
Who would have thought this when I embarked on my introverted venture with humblebee… 18 months ago my husband Mark suggested I go to a North West Future of Housing breakfast meeting. So I registered – seeing as it was just “up the road” – and sat through the conference, nervously hoping to meet interested parties that might be willing to hire me for my expertise and save the planet. What happened was that I listened to developers who were boasting about how they were getting out of affordable housing quotas, filling me with horror. It was also my first introduction to the phrase Modern Methods of Construction by the representative of Homes England there. No reference was made to the impending catastrophe that was runaway Climate Change, and the role housebuilders might have in averting it, but wasn’t it lucky that I’d submitted a question in advance… Admittedly I was mortified on arrival to learn I’d have to ask my question in person, neatly printed on a slip for me to read out. So after hearing about their exploits, it came to the Q&A: I stood up and asked: “In the absence of any legislation, what are developers proposing to do to address climate change?”.
“In the absence of any legislation, what are developers proposing to do to address climate change?”
The response that followed could be summarised with a shrug, and the gist was that unless they were forced by regulation to do anything different, it wasn’t on their radar. There was a silver lining though – by the very fact I’d stood up and asked a pointed question, a few people came up to me: I’d piqued their interest and they would remember that. In fact, I owe one of my best commissions so far, an ongoing collaboration with an offsite affordable homes manufacturer, to an architect who shared my aspiration of making housing of a much higher standard, including Passivhaus. I decided after that morning that I would be the conscience on the shoulder at any housebuilding conference’s: should I ever attend one of these again, I would keep asking: what are you doing to help solve the greatest challenges of our time: the climate emergency, social inequality and the UK housebuilding crisis?
Back to the competition. Out of over 200 submissions – it was an international challenge, albeit for UK based housing – six of us have been selected to move to the next phase. Home of 2030 – a design challenge set by the Ministry of Building Innovation + Education (MOBIE), RIBA, Design Council, and BRE – embarked on a journey to find forward thinking designs that were inclusive and age-friendly, of low environmental impact, healthy and affordable. The finalists would have the opportunity to develop their ideas for an actual Homes England site.
I don’t know who we were up against but can imagine some larger organisations will have had much more sophisticated tools and ample resources to produce their entries. We “indies” relied on our collective expertise, our passion for holistic, compassionate and inherently “good” design, united in our values and our vision for housing to have a positive impact, not a mere desire to limit its negative impact. We gave Adrian a bit of stick for using the phrase “not just doing less bad” – it grated, but that’s exactly what sustainability departments across the country so far try to do: build less bad. What kind of ambition is that, we realised, when we’re faced with the possibility of extinction?
Our Positive+ Collective vision is for modern architecture, home building and community living to be regenerative: not just restore balance but go beyond and positively avoid pumping out greenhouse gases, both operationally and materially using biogenic (natural) materials to absorb carbon emissions. Where and how we live in community has to make up for the years of industrial development, business as usual policies (“it’s the economy, stupid”), and our own cognitive dissonance (knowing what we do is wrong and doing it anyway).
It is also about a new way of working together, developing trusted relationships, to bring about positive change: collaborations between smaller organisations that have the agility to be the change, standing by a set of unwavering principles and refusing to work for the run-of-the-mill client who only wants to maximise profit or personal ambitions. Going beyond sustainability is no longer a choice: it’s an imperative.
I’d like to thank everyone that has helped me so far on my journey, taken a chance and given me my first breaks. And yes, I do a little dance every time I get an opportunity to make a difference.