Wayne Hemingway

Designs for life

26 August 2014

From re-designing the humble water butt to developing large-scale housing projects, Wayne Hemingway's portfolio is vast. But a common theme runs through all his designs: a desire to "improve the things that matter in life".

Since Wayne and his wife Gerardine founded HemingwayDesign in 1981, they have applied their talents to an incredibly wide range of projects. Fashion collections, large-scale building programmes, start-up initiatives, garden installations and even festivals now feature in their portfolio. Wayne has still found time to build a media career, write, and become Visiting Professor of Urban Design at Northumbria University.

But despite having a varied career, there are common elements in all his projects, with issues of sustainability a recurrent theme. In fact, the idea of designing for 'the common good' is at the forefront of his thinking. His company has followed a clear ethos from the start - to use design to help solve some of society's challenges.

Easy going green

Wayne believes climate change is one of the biggest challenges faced by society today - and that design has an important role in tackling it, especially when focused on encouraging people to live in environmentally-friendly ways. However, the message, he feels, needs to be pitched very carefully.

"You can't change human nature just by telling people to do something," he says. "You have to give them an alternative that actually improves their life."

Instead of 'beating people over the head' with rhetoric about sustainability, Wayne believes it's far more effective to find ways to make 'being green' easy for people. This is exemplified in his approach to the Staiths South Bank housing project in Gateshead, which involved designing and building around 800 homes on a brownfield site.

Staiths Housing Project

Wayne was eager to encourage people out of their cars, but to do this he knew there had to be practical and appealing alternatives. So he made sure the development had thoughtfully designed and attractive streets, good bus services and connections, alongside a revamped river walk and free community bikes. Residents soon began cycling to work or walking into town, because, in Wayne's words, they, "found it enjoyable and quick - and soon realised that not having two cars in one household saves money."

Changing people's behaviours is an important step towards a greener society. But it's not the entire picture. Wayne also points to problems created by a 'throwaway' culture and believes many buildings aren't built to last - not just in the materials used or the construction methods, but in how enduring their appeal is. So when working on the Staiths South Bank project he based the designs around the idea of 'liveability' - including community spaces where children can play and adults can congregate. His theory is that when somewhere is an enjoyable place to live, it has a longer shelf life.

The future of eco-design

By showing people that sustainable housing projects can be desirable places to live, and challenging traditional urban design, he has opened the way for other developments to follow. But when it comes to aesthetics, he's steadfast in the belief that sometimes, innovation needs to be subtle - especially when it comes to housing.

"The eco-home of the future will look fairly familiar and very much like a modern, well-designed house."

Remember the weather

When it comes to the weather, Wayne recalls his Nan's advice: "Never cast a clout until May is out" - an old adage about staying wrapped up until June (a 'clout' being a piece of clothing).

And Wayne remembers this weather warning when growing strawberries - a recently rediscovered childhood pastime. He recycles old newspapers, tearing them up to put around the plants just as his Nan did - a simple but effective way of making sure late frosts don't hamper his summer crop.

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