Regenerative Land Use & Village Building
Written by Anton Chernikov
The phasing out of the EU’s Basic Payment Scheme combined with volatile weather, the prospect of stricter environmental taxes and increased competition and shipping costs makes industrial farming much less commercially attractive. Increasingly farmers and landowners are starting to search for new ways to adapt and diversify.
We are working with landowners and farmers in the UK to enable a transition towards more regenerative and resilient land use models. From cohousing development, eco-tourism and events, to regenerative agriculture, natural capital brokerage and regional business development; we connect farmers and landowners to the ideas, talent and capital that they need to co-create thriving regenerative villages.
Today more than ever we find ourselves in a world out of balance. The UK’s State of Nature Report charts a decline across almost all metrics of wildlife. We also face escalating levels of depression and anxiety as well as an ageing population that is placing a huge stress on the NHS and our care system.
Let’s consider the moment of history in which we find ourselves;
The UK housing market has a systemic supply shortage due to the complexity of planning and growth in demand due to demographic changes and inward migration. To keep up with demand, at least 300,000 homes need building every year. In London the target is between 55,000 homes and the reality is less than 30,000. In 12 months till March 2021, 220,000 houses were built nationwide, a decrease of 13% compared to the previous year’s data. With annual construction needing to hit the 300,000 per year milestone, UK construction companies need to devise an efficient process that would not only allow them to build houses faster but also help them to make them greener, by reducing carbon emissions.
The phasing out of the EU’s Basic Payment Scheme combined with volatile weather, the prospect of stricter environmental taxes and increased shipping costs to Europe makes industrial farming commercially unviable for the majority of farmers and landowners. Many British landowners are looking for new business models but this often requires access to capital, knowledge and skills that are difficult to obtain. Another critical issue lies in the age of farmers across the country. The younger generation is not stepping in and many farms are being sold off making us even more dependant on food imports.
Mental Health & Wellbeing
Every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. We all struggle with the fast pace and high stress that modern life brings, especially when living in the city. Digital addiction, emotional anxiety and social isolation is rising. The most effective way to tackle mental health is through reconnecting people with nature, community and the arts. Greater investment is needed to fight the causes and not just the symptoms of our mental health crisis. This is particularly relevant for younger generations who have grown up in the age of social media. We need to design outdoor experiences and places that engage young people and help them find a healthy balance between on screen and off screen time.
In 50 years there are projected to be an additional 8.6 million people aged 65 years and over – a population roughly equivalent to the size of London. Our care system can barely keep up with the current demand. The biggest cause of suffering lies in the social isolation of older people. We need to work harder to create the physical and social infrastructure that enables truly intergenerational communities to thrive.
The cultural, psychological and economic impact of a year of lockdowns, social distancing, face masks and over 128k deaths is not something that we can ignore. The trauma runs deep. The pain is real. Priorities have changed.
We have seen a massive exodus out of the city by those who can afford to do so, with families in particular selling their city home and moving from the suburbs into the countryside. We have seen how vulnerable and isolated older generations in our society have become. We have felt the growing anxiety of young professionals and students who have been glued to their screens working from their tiny bedrooms or student dorms. Parents have also felt the challenges of school closures and having to balance a full time job with child care and homeschooling. What the pandemic has shown us is how fragile our systems and institutions are, and how they struggle to cope and adapt to change.
What has become increasingly clear is the importance of authentic community and connection to nature. These are the things that make us live longer and happier lives. This is not an opinion, it is a fact. Just google the research done by Harvard and the countless papers and books that have been published about the Blue Zones where people live to 100 years and beyond. Community and access to nature are the things that make us feel safe and help us to let go of the stress and anxiety that modern life throws at us.
Young families are being designed and priced out of our cities. More people than ever before are beginning to question the long-term value of buying an apartment in the city. Families are looking for alternatives, but the current model of suburban and rural housing doesn't work either.
A Broken Suburban Housing Model
I grew up here in the suburbs of South East London. This is the classic middle class family lifestyle. My parents worked hard so that me and my twin brother could have our own rooms and go to a good school and live in a good neighbourhood. As I think back I think this is an incredibly isolating and inefficient and unsustainable way to live. In these long residential car filled streets with narrow fences gardens where you have to drive everywhere.
My mission is to change this model of housing and to build places that are more like the sketch shown below with shared gardens, life size sculptures and plenty of amenity spaces and footpaths that lead you into a wild and regenerative landscape.
We have a solution. We call it re:live. Re:live is a multi-generational affordable co-housing model designed for individuals, couples and families who aspire to live with greater community, wellbeing and connection to nature.
Our vision is to provide a living experience that blends the creativity, technology and service quality that you get when living in the city with the community spirit and wild nature that you can only get in a rural setting. For each re:live development we will aim to deliver net biodiversity gains through the ecological restoration of nearby farmland as well as net zero or even carbon positive impacts.
At the core of re:live is the aspiration to deliver an affordable and modern rural co-housing lifestyle that minimises the use of a car and maximises the amount of shared amenity and outdoor garden space. We want to challenge the conventional model of building executive homes with private roads, fenced gardens and oversized private garages. Instead of building heavy brick homes with deep foundations that are expensive to heat in the winter and cool in the summer, we envisage a lightweight townhouse and bungalow design that can be supported by pile foundations and a steel superstructure. We can then use smart underfloor heating and passive house ventilation systems to ensure a comfortable climate inside the home at a fraction of the energy cost. We can also strip back the interior fit out to allow for the residents themselves to self-build and customise their own interiors. We build flat roofs so that the building can be extended and the rooftop can be used as green spaces and also for solar thermal and photovoltaic power generation. This not only brings down the cost of construction and the cost of living but also gives residents the opportunity to personalise their home.
Another key factor in the modern lifestyle is travel and mobility. So many family homes are built without an ensuite in every room. This makes it harder to rent out bedrooms and accommodate sharers and guests. There are also so many benefits from living closer together like you would in a town or city and having access to shared amenities and services such as a common house (for cooking, dining, coworking and community events), an electric car sharing club with a communal car parking area, a co-created playground, shared edible gardens and a wild regenerative landscape on your doorstep.
We will also compliment these amenities with a self-management and governance platform that will enable the members of the community to make their own democratic decisions on how to best manage the communal spaces and services. Rather than designing for privacy, we should be designing to encourage spontaneous social interaction and integration with local people.
Our Design Blueprint
We are inspired by the principles of Bauhaus-E. We begin with a sound and sustainable business case first. We seek to design the foundations, structural frame and facade of the building in a modular fashion to bring down costs and reduce construction time. When it comes to the landscape and interior design we design for maximum flexibility and allow the residents to bring their own personality and ideas to the spaces that they will use everyday.
Beyond the housing itself, we also seek to integrate a multi-generational living, regenerative farming and an educational centre within each masterplan.
Affordable homes for 30-50 residents with shared amenities and outdoor spaces. Balance of townhouses, bungalows and apartments to provide affordable rental housing that is suitable for individuals, couples and families at all stages of life. Key outdoor amenities include a central courtyard, rooftop activation and a modular stage pavilion. Key indoor amenities include communal kitchen, mail room, multi-purpose dining / working / event space, laundry room, cycle store, centralised heating and energy system, workshop and recycling refuse store.
A neighbouring or nearby farm that embraces an organic and permaculture approach to agriculture; with a diverse mix of farm animals, a lake / water reservoir, agroforestry, orchards, allotments, composting systems, greenhouses and perhaps even some hydroponic or aquaponic systems. Not only does this farm help to feed the village, but it also provides plenty of opportunities for the community to learn about and participate in a healthier and more sustainable food system.
A place for local visitors, workshops, events, mini-festivals, artist residencies, short-stay residents (eco-tourism) and educational programmes. How far can we stretch a campsite licence and temporarily / mobile structures and tiny houses? Could we bypass the lengthy planning process and set up a seasonal education centre (geodome) with a sculpture park, onsite accommodation (tiny house cabins on trailers) and a maker-space / workshop (barn conversion)? Allocating land where we can create a temporary village and visitor centre that focuses on education and supporting art projects would bring a wealth of creativity, culture and impact to the overall village.
For higher density cohousing developments we would also explore the possibility of providing a community run nursery, a pop-up market, an onsite gym and wellness studio, a grocery store and a community pub and restaurant. These amenities could also be accessible to people outside of the community.
Watch our re:build talk to learn more
We are working with the Somerleyton Estate to co-create an exciting new vision for the Somerleyton Marina and the adjoining Brickfields site that will create new green jobs and apprenticeships as well as providing affordable co-housing for local people. We will start by renting and renovating existing buildings and offering temporary seasonal coliving and coworking. This will enable us to test the waters, nurture local relationships and co-create a collective vision and blueprint for the village that works for everyone.
Work With Us
We partner with landowners and farmers in the UK and support them in transitioning towards more regenerative and resilient land use models.
From cohousing development, eco-tourism and events, to regenerative agriculture, natural capital brokerage and regional business development; we connect farmers and landowners to the ideas, talent and capital that they need to co-create thriving regenerative villages.
Designer, Entrepreneur & Placemaking Consultant