Kevin McCloud interview: The TV presenter and writer on politics, architecture and the challenges of dry-stone-walling

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The Independent Culture

Do you get Grand Design Live groupies who turn up every year?

Of course – the lovely thing about it is that it's an exhibition for like-minded souls, it is very nice to be among friends.

A focus on environmental living is very central to what you're doing isn't it?

It's a very strong green trend which runs through my work and the series and the exhibition. It's important and core to the interests and passions of the exhibition organisers as well. For example we don't have companies that sell rip-off furniture. It's about craftsmanship.

Do you think people are re-engaging with craftsmanship and authenticity?

I would like to think so. I think people stay at home more and don't do up their houses just to sell but to put their own personality and their own autobiography into them. I think that's got to be a good thing. It's good for communities and it's good for the souls of buildings.

What do you make of building on the greenbelt?

Most people can't distinguish between a playing field and a brownfield piece of land and a caravan park; they could all be the same thing. The planning should be on a case-by-case basis. We should actually assess what the need is and what people want.

Would you say England is worse for this obsession with London?

Of course, we've got around 64 million people in the country, eight million of whom live in Greater London. What about the other 56 million? I live in Bristol and the affairs of Bristol are far more interesting to me than those of London.

What do you make of the Shard?

I like the Shard. There are maybe half a dozen buildings put up in recent years that are fabulous and iconic. I like the Beetham Tower in Manchester; it gives that sort of dark Mancunian identity which to me matches the character of the place. Sometimes these buildings have that fabulous magnetic quality.

What's the most common mistake people make building their own houses?

The most common mistake is our greatest failing as a species but our greatest characteristic at the same time. It's the unswerving hope that what comes next is going to be the best and the brightest thing ever to have happened. Without that nothing would get built, but thanks to it people make all kinds of mistakes.

What was the house you grew up in like?

I grew up in an early 1960s box. It was a small three-bedroom house. My father bought it unfinished and finished it off and then extended it. Very thin walls, early 60s single-glazed building. Freezing cold in winter, typical of the time but built with a degree of optimism about where we were going.

What's your typical weekend like?

Repairing things! I'm building, repairing, dry-stone-walling. I'm quite driven, I really enjoy it, but I'm not terrifically good at doing it.

What do you think of Prince Charles' input into the architecture debate?

Good on the whole: community, social sustainability, resilience, environmental responsibility, all that stuff. I draw the line at building architecture which looks like somebody stopped thinking about it in 1825.

Would you join a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn?

I've joined the Green party now so that would be quite hard! There is a need for a new identity in the middle of politics. The middle ground is sitting vacant.

Do you feel optimistic about the world your children are growing up in?

I always feel optimistic because my world of building and making is driven by optimism. If I wasn't an optimist I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. µ

Biography

Kevin McCloud, 56, is a British designer, writer and TV presenter best known for the Channel 4 series Grand Designs, which he has presented since 1999. After graduating from Cambridge University, he trained as a theatre designer and set up his own lighting design practice. In 2008 he took Grand Designs on the road with live exhibitions. He was made MBE in 2014 for services to sustainable design

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