With Lovedon Fields I acquired – the hard way – a little more understanding as to why innovative housing projects are so few and far between, writes Architecture Today editor Isabel Allen.


Cover of Architecture Today issue 318 featuring Lovedon Fields by John Pardey Architects for HAB, a development company founded by Kevin McCloud and Isabel Allen

Isabel Allen


I have a conflict of interest to declare. Lovedon Fields, featured on the cover of this issue, is perhaps a little too close to my heart.

Some 15 years ago, having spent a decade passing judgement on other people’s buildings, I made the decision to become a developer; to try to understand why it is that so much volume housing is lacklustre. To do my part to buck the trend.

I joined forces with Kevin McCloud, presenter of Grand Designs. We knew each other through the Stirling Prize. I’d spent four years as a judge; he’d spent four years as the frontman for its coverage on Channel 4. He dreamt of channelling his passion, profile and expertise into a new company, HAB Housing, that would apply a progressive social and sustainability agenda – and the country’s best design talent – to the challenge of improving the country’s housing stock.

We partnered with forward looking housing associations to build projects across Swindon, Stroud, Oxford and Bristol, eventually branching out into mixed-tenure schemes. Lovedon Fields raised the issue of how to develop the threshold between settlement and countryside – that sacred boundary embedded deep within the national psyche and enshrined in planning law. Poetic in the telling, but rather less so on the ground. While surrounded by trees and hedgerows, much of the site was an ecological desert, malnourished from decades of intensive use.


We set ourselves the challenge of creating a veritable Eden: edible hedgerows, wild planting, sustainable drainage, allotments, bee bricks, bird blocks, a swift tower. Even flyovers for dormice – picket gates designed to ensure that openings in hedgerows wouldn’t interrupt wildlife routes.

We worked with the Parish Council to transform the remainder of the field into a wildflower meadow criss-crossed with routes for cyclists and walkers, a semi-wild threshold between the village and the adjacent national park. We challenged our architect, John Pardey Architects, to develop an architectural language appropriate to both the village and the land. We offered residents the opportunity to choose from different layouts, providing what we saw as a much needed bridge between identikit volume housing and one-off bespoke homes. We decreed that the social housing, rather than lurking apologetically in the shadows, would stand proudly centre stage and enjoy the grandest views.


So many laudable ambitions. So many unanticipated problems. We under-estimated the implications of custom build; the reality of building multiple one-off projects at speed and to cost. We decided that the way to safeguard quality was to act as our own contractor, with little understanding of the challenges ahead.

Construction delays. Penalty payments. Disgruntled punters. Angry investors. Bad press. Corporate collapse.

The residents love it now, and actually so do I. But yes, I did acquire – the hard way – a little more understanding as to why innovative housing projects are so few and far between.