Q: Can you give us an insight into your career background?
“From the age of 14, I realised that I was interested in building and architecture. I went on to study maths, physics and art at Oxford Brooks before traveling for a year. I visited India and South East Asia and it was here where it really opened my eyes to sustainability and other ways of living.
I remember a clear memory, from around 1992, where in India you would get served chai tea in a clay cup. If you drank it quick enough you could throw it on the floor and it would mix with the mud and would leave no trace. Food was served in banana leaves, and again you’d eat, discard the leaf and it would simply compost away, creating no waste. It hit me that there’s other ways of living and we need to be more accountable.
When I did a BA, I was interested in studying sustainable architecture further however it was early days and I’d spend time going in to niche bookshops in London to read the handful of books they had on mud architecture! It was quite rare back in those days.
I then studied at the Royal College of Art to see the other side of design, before starting a business with friends in event and exhibition organisation. It was temporary however as I really knew that I actually wanted to build sustainable homes. This was – and continues to be today – my true passion.”
Q: How has your business developed over the years?
“In 2005, I left London and moved to Chipping Norton and started the Charlie Luxton Design practice, which I’ve built-up over the last 15 years. Today, the practice has grown to eight people, where we predominantly focus on sustainable new builds, refurbishments and extensions. Paralleling with that has been a branch into TV programmes about sustainability, and that’s been great fun. For me, it gives me the opportunity to educate people – so I’m doing and talking about sustainable architecture.”
Q: What type of projects are you currently working on?
“We’re currently working on an exciting project to develop 12-15 units, which is a community-led Passivhaus project. It’s exciting as it’s being developed in partnership with the community, paid for by the community and will be carbon neutral. It’s a really ambitious project.
Alongside this, we’re also doing lovely houses for people in varying scales – everything from £300K to £1.5m, with some commercial office development too.”
Q: What makes your practice different?
“Our aim is to take a holistic approach to sustainability; we look at the materials, consider air quality, and also look, wherever possible, to reuse energy and materials. For example, two recent projects have focused on the redevelopment of two 1960s bungalows. The original plans were to demolish and rebuild, however rather than knock them down we decided to rejuvenate the buildings. We’ve reused material and created a more sustainable approach. We’re just about to start building our office too and here I’ve bought a tin shed, which we will be recladding! It will be super insulated and timber-framed inside the original tin. Even the slab, blocks and steel frame will be reused, rather than buying in new. We want to be as light as we can – we’re even planting 1,000 new trees to offset carbon.
Outside of the physical projects, I’m also in the process of transferring the shares of the company among the staff. We will operate a distributed ownership model for those that have put the time and passion into everything we do. It feels the right thing to do.”
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in your career to date?
“If you’ve been interested in sustainability like I have for the last 25 years, that’s been a really hard challenge in itself! It’s only in the last few years that people have actually really started to listen. In this time, I’ve been watching mass development going-up, without any real thought to sustainability, and the challenge has been to keep motivation, and keep shouting about my passion for this. It has been tough. I’ve sat with TV producers and have asked them to consider a production on sustainable housing and they just glaze over. It’s hard to keep going when you feel as though the messages are falling on deaf ears – that’s been the hardest thing in my career. However, the tide is turning; I just hope it’s not too late.”
Q: What would you say is your proudest moment in your career?
“I like the buildings that we create; I’m very proud of our portfolio. I really like the office culture that we’ve created. I love coming to work and the people that work here love coming to work too. We’re on a sustainability mission – we’re all involved in a local low carbon project, where we are part of a car pool for example. I love the atmosphere that has been created here and that we’re all striving towards the same goal.”
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
“If it’s a filming day, I will travel to a location, film for four or five hours. It’s great to get a chance to see other projects, meet people and get inspired by others. It can be a long day – and often cold as mostly on sites. Otherwise, my time is spent between the office and sites, where I spend my days in meetings, talking, emailing, sketching, planning; it’s varied.”
Q: How has your business had to change as a result of the pandemic?
“In terms of architecture we’ve been relatively unaffected, whether the company is in a growth phase or we’re in a growth area of the country we’re not sure. Filming has been hit by the pandemic and so little filming has been happening. More recently though I’ve been finishing a couple of series and I’m starting to have conversations about developing new ones. I’ve also been doing quite a bit of writing and taking part in virtual talks.”
Q: What does 2021 bring for you and your business?
“From a housing perspective, government has given power to a select handful of housebuilders – just eight large firms deliver over 65% of our housing, which I feel has very little consideration to sustainability. A sad statistic I read said that 74% of people wouldn’t want to live in a new build property. In my view, this is a big failure. Imagine if that was the same for new cars or shoes? I think it’s a sad reflection on housing today.
So, for me, a big focus in 2021 will be on community housing projects – and in getting communities more engaged with sustainable housebuilding. I want to tackle this with the community-led housing projects, which involve people, planners, developers and owners so there is more control, fairness and buy-in from all parties.
We’ll also be starting the building work on our own very low energy studio space.”
Charlie Luxton, Architectural Designer and Director at Charlie Luxton Design.
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