Q&A with Kevin McCloud

Q&A with Kevin McCloud on the Channel 4 show’s self build styles

Kevin McCloud fills us in on the history of TV Show Grand Designs on Channel 4

By Jenny Mcfarlane |

Our Editor, Karen Stylianides sat down with designer and presenter Kevin McCloud to talk chat the Grand Designs bingo drinking game, self building styles and Grand Designs history.

Kevin, lovely to see you at Grand Designs Live for another year! How many years has it been now?

Enough but I think this is our 14th year/15th year… that’s how long we’ve been at GDL and the show has been on television for… it will be twenty years in 1990 but we started work in ’97 so we’re already, in our hearts, 21 years old.

Wow and has that flown by?

Just amazingly quickly but not as fast as my hairline’s moved which is annoying and it’s sort of become – whether it’s become any kind of national institution I have no idea – but all I know is that I morphed into it and it’s sort of morphed into me.

There’s been a few spin offs from the GD TV series as in the Grand Designs bingo drinking game…

It’s so interesting that you mention that because the drinking game, of course, you know nobody wrote that except enthusiastic students and it demonstrates that we don’t have a sort of brand manager really. It’s a kind of natural Wiki extension of who we are and what we do. In a sense it’s a good thing we have it, it shows that we’re in good health.

It’s kind of like it’s got a life of its own – it’s grown outside the brand

People often ask me who is your brand manager, who looks after brand, how often do you have meetings, planning meetings?

The answer is, well, we have a planning meeting maybe once a year in the pub and the brand manager – who? I mean we don’t have any individual looking after it but then you see the television programme is made on location with almost no script and that’s all about people collaborating – who are really good at their jobs and wanting to get the best out of the energy of the day and those people and their contribution.

And the exhibition it’s the same thing – I mean, there are probably four or five people who are actually key in kind of driving the creativity here and the quality of it and the energy of it and if it were a carefully managed thing with a manual, telling us what to do, it would be dead, it wouldn’t feel as energetic as it does… the energy of this event and the energy of everything  we do really depends on almost a spontaneity or that collaboration between people who share a common love of it, a common passion.

kevin mccloud on stage at grand theatre at grand designs live birmingham 2017

Photo: Bircan Tulga

So, over those 21 years you must have seen so many changes come and go with construction methods and house building design… what sort of significant changes have you seen?

Well, of course, we’ve seen the introduction at the time of underfloor heating, bi-fold doors, triple glazing – all of which have taken the exhibition by storm, and taken the market by storm but at the same time.

Someone said to me the other day, “So what are the big trends that are coming up this year to which my answer was, I couldn’t spot a trend if I saw it coming but then actually I can never see it coming – I can only see it when it’s gone and I suspect we all can only see them properly when we look back, so I never know what the next big thing is going to be but anyway good to be kept on one’s toes!

Over those Twenty one years, in terms of the self builders from the TV show’s building styles, how has that changed? Has the trend shifted to modular building?

It’s interesting stylistically and culturally I think… we’ve seen the biggest changes. We started at the end of the last century – in the last millennium – and well into this one, and I’ve always thought looking back at history, that it usually takes sort of 15 or 20 years for every century to settle in. You look at regency architecture and music in the early 19th century in the architecture and design world and it seems to spend some time digesting… you know Beethoven digested a lot of Haydn before he really charged forward – he was a bit before his time; but certainly in the architecture and design world you get this slight hiccup at the beginning of a century where everybody thinks, ‘Woah, I’ve just missed that.’ I think that’s what happened with architecture.

I remember… I think it was B&B Italia who said in 2001 or 2002 that there had been a 11-fold spike in sales of contemporary furniture in Britain in 2001, and they couldn’t understand it. I believe it was people thinking, ‘oh no that was the twentieth century and we’ve still got all our old brown furniture, what have we done? We’ve missed out an entire century! We’ve still got 19th century stuff, quick grab it now!’

They went out and tried to find a little bit of modernism and to an extent, in architecture, we’ve been doing the same thing as well. I think over the first 5 or 10 years, in the late ’90s, there was a lot of oak-framed stuff and then we developed modernist white and glass boxes, a little rash of those appeared in 2005 and 2010 and we seemed to have moved on in architecture.

It’s interesting that looking at the winners of House of the Year over the past 3 years, those winners have been going for much longer, in the form of the Mansa medal, which is what House of the Year used to be called.

Those winners suggest that the judges, at least, like to see architecture which responds to the place where it is which is almost uniquely British and I think that’s something we do very well and there’s other north European countries that do the same thing; other southern European countries that do contextual architecture very well but I think we’re uniquely placed in Britain because we have a geology which is east to west from the wash to the west coast of Wales…

It’s geologically a bigger time span than the whole of the United States; it’s about a thousand million years old and that means local materials change every 20/30 miles that you travel, which means that the traditional pattern and the language of buildings change and so any architect working these days with that local tradition of clay tile making or that particular stone from that particular quarry will produce architecture which is just as special to where it is based, as it always was.

It’s very much about place and that’s something that’s grown you think?

I think it has. I think in a way we’ve been chewing over international modernism and we’re still arching it over and we’re still producing those beautiful glass boxes and perhaps there will always be a place for that but in a way, that kind of approach to architecture is pretty much about the plan and the layout… that approach is one which was really matured 100 years ago and so it’s not surprising really that we should want to evolve and move on.