Jonathan Smales
Timber and Hempcrete

14.05.24. internet

Jonathan Smales is a housing developer like few others. He is the co-founder and executive chairman of Human Nature, whose new project, The Phoenix, on the outskirts of Lewes, East Sussex in the UK, has just won planning permission.

What makes the development different? The Phoenix will contain 685 homes, designed by a roster of fascinating architects, who will be working in materials such as cross laminated timber and Hempcrete.

The development will be pretty much vehicle-free, with residents encouraged to make use of a car share scheme, an electric bike service, or a shuttle bus. It will have amenities including a community canteen, event hall, taproom, fitness centre and makers studios. There will be shared courtyards, parks and green corridors to promote communal living and provide habitats for local wildlife.

As the architecture critic, Rowan Moore, wrote in The Observer recently: ‘It looks, in a land where new homes are largely lumpen products of volume housebuilders, miraculous.’

Jonathan also has one of those CVs that makes you wonder what you’ve been doing with your time. Over the years, he has been managing director of Greenpeace, an advisor on sustainability issues to the government, and he also led the Earth Centre project, regenerating a former coal mine outside Doncaster.

In this episode we talk about: how he got involved in The  Phoenix; his fascination with cities; building in CLT and Hempcrete; mining the Anthropocene; choosing the project’s architects; why the UK has forgotten how to make places; growing up in a mining village; a school trip to Paris that changed his life; coming up with the idea for the Earth Centre and why it closed so quickly. We also chat about his love of punk…


Find out more about The Phoenix

The Phoenix site as it is today