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The space between buildings

‘Future-proofing’ is a buzz-phrase that no longer has much of an impact, especially in the housing sector. Because it is integral to creating sustainable modern buildings, everyone is doing it, and has been doing it for a number of years. We speak to HAB Housing founder Kevin McCloud to understand why, when looking at the resilience of our communities, what’s on the outside counts as much as the inside.

HAB housing

Kevin McCloud, Founder of HAB Housing

When designing homes for people to live in – for families to grow in, for the elderly to feel safe in – we need to think of spaces for people to thrive, not just survive, and that isn’t limited to the walls that we build. The key is that, in terms of housing, ‘future proofing’ must now incorporate the wider environment, not just the physical structures we design and build.

How do you want to live?

Kevin McCloud, broadcaster and founder of the sustainable housing developer HAB Housing (HAB stands for Happiness Architecture Beauty) describes how we need to build homes that are responsive, improve biodiversity, are sustainable, and a pleasure to live in.

He explains: “Architects, developers and planning authorities are designing on paper and in pixels what they believe a solution to the UK’s housing crisis will look like – but a crucial element we can’t sacrifice is the social impact of developments. This means thinking beyond the aesthetic quality and numbers, to how the people who live in these developments will interact with their environments and each other.

“At HAB, we believe that the really important bits of social sustainability happens in the space between buildings”

Kevin McCloud, HAB Housing

“At HAB, we believe that the really important bits of social sustainability happens in the space between buildings. Residents can club together through the sharing of food growing, play space, amenities and car clubs to create a collective ownership of space, and lower their combined environmental impact and form that all important social glue.”

HAB is also challenging the idea that affordable housing means low quality. The company adopts an intelligent, balanced and holistic approach in line with One Planet Living principles in the planning phase of new developments – and always design communities rather than houses.

HAB carefully designs community and landscaped spaces that are the centrepiece of proper place-making. As Kevin explains: “Having homes which from an environmental point of view which are fit to last, but look out over thoughtful and enriching green spaces are vital to realise this approach. Human beings are naturally sociable creatures but we need urban greenery and natural habitat – for us as well as wildlife.

“The trick in planning schemes is to ensure sufficient density of housing while creating green spaces with enough incidental opportunity for delight. We like to have fun with our public realm design with the bricks, but also boxes, wildflower, water rills, edible gardens and fruity streets. We believe this approach is going to become an enormously important part of how we organise ourselves spatially in the future, not just to reduce our environmental impact, but also to find happiness through social relationships.”

“When you make a place, the people that live there are stakeholders in that place. They can come to care for and love the space where they live”

Kevin McCloud, HAB Housing


Everybody deserves a place to live, but Kevin explains that careful design provides brand new gateways for people to interact. “Most developers still think that green space is the fluff you tack on at the end. The problem with the idea that an Englishman’s home is his castle is that home is often very small so the castle is small. But if you have a play space in front of the house and a community vegetable garden round the corner, your sense of ownership actually extends.

“When you make a place, the people that live there are stakeholders in that place. They can come to care for and love the space where they live” he adds.


HAB Housing

HAB Housing is recognised as a leader in sustainable development, favouring a fabric-first approach to environmental construction with a focus on biodiversity, edible landscapes and sustainable drainage. HAB uses materials and products which have low environmental impact and they also need to be affordable, durable, readily available and easy to maintain.

Triodos Bank UK supports housing associations and community projects across the country, find out more about who we support on Know Where Your Money Goes.

What do you think of "The space between buildings"

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Caroline Ashley-Cooper 3 years ago

Brilliant idea – and seeing as for much of the year our climate isn’t exactly one that encourages out-of-door meetups, how about having an indoor space in the midst of each small cluster of houses? Both for leisure – reading, conversing, playing games, watching telly companionably, eating together – and for communal resources such as washing machines and tumble driers.

Reply to Caroline Ashley-Cooper
John Ellis 3 years ago


Sally Jackson 3 years ago

Such a good idea, first put forward by Nan Fairbrother 1972 and even more relevant today.