Kevin McCloud on the Grand Designs 2019 series and 20 years on TV

Kevin McCloud talks us through the 2019 series of Grand Designs, what to expect from the special Kevin's Grandest Design and writing to Meryl Streep once upon a time.

By Jenny Mcfarlane | 19 August 2019

Kevin McCloud talks us through what to expect in 2019’s brand new Grand Designs series and writing to Meryl Streep

Kevin McCloud filming Grand Designs behind the scenes shot with crew in 2015

Image: Lee Beard

Kevin McCloud talks through Grand Designs 20th anniversary, how the series has evolved and the scoop on the special anniversary show, where he reveals the grandest designs of the last 20 years.

A series running for 20 years is quite an achievement! How does it feel to have reached such an impressive milestone?

Anniversaries are funny things because on the one hand they don’t mean anything, you just carry on doing what you do, and on the other they’re a great excuse to celebrate. We celebrated this year at Grand Designs Live at ExCel in the spring, we’re celebrating again at Grand Designs Live in Birmingham in October and we’re celebrating on screen by kicking off the new series with a special that looks back on the past 20 years, where I’ve selected a clutch of my favourite projects, so that’s quite a personal film.

How do you feel the series has evolved in the last 20 years? What are the biggest changes we’d see if we watched the very first episode and compared it to the most recent?

It’s funny, it’s probably evolved very little. We’ve worked on nearly 200 episodes – that’s a lot of television. In those 20 years technology has changed a lot, so the big advances have been in the quality of the visual imagery and in the editing.

If you look back now at the stuff from 20 years ago, everything looks grey – the only thing that looks grey now is my hair! My hairline would probably be the biggest change you’d see between the first and latest episodes.

In 2012 we went back to re-visit the Hedgehog Housing Co-Op in Brighton and kids who were seven or eight when we made the first film were suddenly graduating from University and going off for their gap years.

It was fantastic because it was a programme about a social housing project, and what you saw was kids coming out of this who were incredibly empowered – it was a real testament to the power of architecture. So the change has been marked by children growing up, it has been marked by my hairline and it has also been marked by this amazing proof of how great architecture can change people’s lives.

What’s the top piece of advice you’ve learned to give over the years? What would you say to anyone thinking about starting a Grand Designs project?

Work with great people! Don’t imagine for a moment that you can do everything, most of us can’t. Find an architect who views the world as you do and find a builder who you love working with and with whom you feel you can have a good relationship. Work on recommendations from friends, by all means, and do get projects costed.

How do you think architecture itself has changed in the past two decades?

It’s a slow game, architecture. Most people think it’s about style but it’s really about substance, it’s about things like walls and doors and where they go, it’s about circulation, the use of rooms, making a building fit where it is so that it gets the best views and maximising the light. A lot of it’s very pragmatic and that means some of the ground rules don’t change.

When it comes to things like the tech and the cladding, of course there are advances, and you get these little blips of fashion where architecture gets a bit self-conscious and goes all trendy. That’s where you get things like cladding with oak, which was a bit of a trademark 20 years ago.

Glass is always there, bi-fold doors won’t go away – I’ve stopped calling them bi-fold doors now, I just call them French Windows, which was a 1960s word for them.