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Fashion guru sees green

  • Story Highlights
  • Wayne Hemingway was the designer behind fashion label Red or Dead
  • He now designs homes and says eco-friendly design is not always sustainable
  • The key to sustainable housing is to build lasting communities, he says
  • He concedes that it's a challenge to build housing that is green and affordable
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By Mark Tutton
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Wayne Hemingway is the English designer who made his name with trendy fashion label Red or Dead. Often outspoken, and known for his green values, Hemingway now designs housing projects -- and he's on a mission to change how we think about sustainable housing.

Wayne Hemingway wants to change how people think of sustainable housing.

In Hemingway's view, architects focus too much on using hi-tech solutions to make homes eco-friendly, instead of concentrating on building lasting communities. He warns that environmentally-friendly design can become a box-ticking exercise that allows developers to disguise poor planning with token solar panels and wind turbines.

"You can build sustainable homes that are all singing, all dancing, and low carbon, but it's not much use if people don't enjoy living there," he told CNN. "And at the moment you do get environmentally friendly, carbon-efficient homes that no one wants to live in because the other things haven't been thought out."

Hemingway and his wife Geraldine started out selling second-hand clothes from a stall in London's Camden Market in 1982. Their one stall soon became 16, and spurred on by their success they set up the Red or Dead label later that year.

Their designs were soon picked up by New York's Macy's department store, among others, and Red or Dead became one of the hippest brands of its day, winning the UK's Street Style Designer of the year award three times in a row in the mid 90s.

The Hemingways sold Red or Dead in 1996 in a multi-million dollar deal and went on to set up Hemingway Design, which has collaborated with British home-building giant George Wimpey on some huge housing estates in the UK.

Hemingway says it's crucial that new developments are built to be truly sustainable -- that is, that they are built to last. "A lot of housing developments built in Britain since the 1960s have had to be knocked down 25 to 30 years later," he says.

"The carbon footprint of building a house and then knocking it down 25 years later is huge. It's much worse to build a low-carbon house and then have to pull it down than it is to build a normal one that lasts. So we've got to build places that last and it's people putting down roots -- community -- that makes places last." Do you think community is the key to sustainable housing?

As well as designing homes he is chairman of Building for Life, which recognizes housing schemes that have been designed to a high standard. Again, rather than just focusing on architectural innovation, Building for Life looks for schemes that emphasize community -- which means providing employment, public transport and communal open spaces.

Hemingway adds, "Economic sustainability is very important; if people can work from home, if houses are adaptable so they can start a business from their front room or they can rent a small unit -- all that's part of sustainability as well."

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Hemingway Design's housing projects have given him the chance to put his theories into practice. He says it's essential that residents can access facilities without using their cars, and when finished, his 1,100-home "The Bridge" development in Dartford, near London, will have its own school, shopping complex and leisure facilities. On top of that, residents will be able to use the local bus service free of charge.

The industry has been quick to recognize the innovations at Hemingway Design's 800-home Staiths South Bank development in Gateshead in the north of England, which has won a sackful of design awards. It is notable for breaking away from the identikit homes typical of low-cost housing and for including communal recycling points and shared open spaces. All this is intended to create that crucial sense of community.

Hemingway's own green credentials are impressive. He's an enthusiastic cyclist and drives a hybrid car, and the Hemingways live in a self-designed home that has its own sewerage system, where gray water is treated before being used to irrigate their land.

But he acknowledges that when it comes to building his housing estates the eco-friendly features are limited by the need to make the housing affordable. "You do what you can in the budget you've got. The housing is aimed at first and second time buyers so you can't do everything you'd like to do, or what you might to your own home, because no one could afford them and you'd defeat the whole object."

He concedes that it's a challenge to make carbon-efficient housing affordable, saying that the supply chain isn't yet developed enough to keep prices down, but he is optimistic that costs will eventually fall and that sustainable housing can make a difference to climate change.

"I think eventually we'll be at the stage where we can build housing that's probably almost carbon zero and maybe can even add to the [electricity] grid, and we've got to start moving toward that. We're not at the stage of evolution of the supply chain to do it yet, and these schemes are just are a step, but every little step is important."

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