Tuesday, 3 May 2011 3:58 PM
Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud talks self-builds, his favourite Roman altar and why he might move to a little hut halfway up a mountain. Interview by Ele Cooper.
What’s your favourite building?
At any one point in my life I always have ten or 20 favourite buildings, and it's really exciting when I find something new for 'the league'. Two weeks ago I went to see a Roman altar called Ara Pacis. I've been going to Rome now for 30 years but for some reason I'd never wanted to go in. When I did, it just blew me away. It is the most extraordinary, staggering piece of marble. It's carved, it’s polished, it’s decorated; seeing it is like being transported back 2,000 years. That’s the power of architecture: to take you to another place; to make you feel like a different human being.
How about the Shard – do you approve?
I’m getting a bit fed up of architecture being reduced to simple geometric shapes clad in glass.
Grand Designs is mainly about new-builds and yet you live in a 500-year-old farmhouse. What do you prefer: old buildings or new ones?
That’s a really, really good question. It's like – are you a modernist or a brutalist? Do you prefer art deco or arts and crafts? To me it’s all up for grabs, it’s all wonderful. Often the value of a historical building is dependent on where it is and what its context is, what it’s surrounded by. Also, let’s not forget that about 15 per cent of all Grand Designs projects use existing buildings.
What have you done to modernise your own house?
I've put a modern extension on the back, added some glass here, a bit of oak there. And I installed a modern kitchen – kitchens have to have a minimum hygiene level! But actually my taste’s quite eclectic. I’ve got one or two modern pieces of furniture. One of my favourite things is a plywood recliner that I bought about 15 years ago, but it sits in a room with a 19th-century sofa. It doesn’t worry me.
AboutProperty editor Ele with Kevin McCloud
Where in the world would you most like to live?
If you'd said where would I most like to be, I’d say climbing a mountain with a friend. I like going up glaciers and mountains a great deal; I spend a lot of time in the mountains. I like the stillness and the beauty, the utter perfection of discovering four million flowers in a little hidden valley. I love the warmth and the power and mountains' sublime nature. But I wouldn’t like to be there at night! So where would I like to live? Maybe just a little bit further down the mountain in a hut.
You're talking to Grant Shapps on stage today. What do you think of his housing policy ideas?
He’s being very heroic with planning: he is asking planners to say yes more often than no, asking them to be less safe. But if they're going to be asked to start taking on more responsibility, I think most planners would like to be paid a bit more money. I approve of this move to try and encourage more self-builds; I just think there need to be some riders attached to it. As ever with this government, they've been big on ideas, big on the broad-brush strategies but it would be good to see the detail.
How significant a role has Grand Designs played in changing the public's attitude towards architecture?
When the series first started I wasn't allowed to use the word 'architecture' on television, it had to be called 'building'. But over the last 15 years architecture has gone from being aloof and rather remote to being very engaging. It's hard to say whether Grand Designs was responsible for that or whether it was riding a wave that was already forming. I like to think we've done our bit.
What's next for Kevin McCloud?
I'm very busy with Hab, my development company – that takes up all of my time when I'm not filming. Our first project will be finished in a month's time and that's going out as a television series – one that took six years to film! Other than that, I might just build that hut at the bottom of a mountain I was talking about.
Kevin McCloud is appearing at Grand Designs Live, which is being held at London's Excel, from now until Sunday May 8th. To book, visit GrandDesignsLive.com.