Go-ahead for UK’s largest mass timber structure neighbourhood

Aaron Morby 5 months ago
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Campaigning development company Human Nature has secured planning for a 685-home riverside estate conceived, built and operated on circular principles and community-first thinking.

The Phoenix scheme is designed to discourage private car ownership replacing it with a mobility hub of electric car hire
The Phoenix scheme is designed to discourage private car ownership replacing it with a mobility hub of electric car hire

The Lewes-based company, which was founded by former Greenpeace directors Michael Manolson and Jonathan Smales, has called on a dozen architects to design the UK’s ‘most sustainable neighbourhood’.

Its visionary project, known as the Phoenix, will transform a former industrial site in Lewes, East Sussex and is being promoted as a design template for towns in the future.

Architects opt for 4-storey home design for 21-century template of a sustainable neighbourhood

Buildings will be constructed from engineered timber, with prefabricated cassettes made from local timber and biomaterials such as hemp.

Cross laminate timber structures and wall cassette system

Where possible, existing materials from the site’s industrial past – including cladding, steel trusses, bricks and buttresses – will be salvaged and repurposed or reconstituted.

A key part of the green village design focus leads a shift away from reliance on private vehicle ownership to creating safe streets for walking, cycling and wheeling.

Instead, the village will use a co-mobility hub that incorporates electric-car share, car hire and car club, electric bike service and a shuttle-bus facility.

Planning achieved to transform an old industrial site within a year

The Phoenix was masterplanned by Human Nature’s in-house design team, regenerative design agency Periscope, and Kathryn Firth, director of masterplanning and urban design at Arup.

The Phoenix’s professional team


  • Masterplanning: Human Nature, Periscope, Kathryn Firth (Arup)
  • Architects: Adam Richards Architects, Archio, Al-Jawad Pike, Ash Sakula Architects, Charles Holland Architects, Human Nature, Mae, Material Cultures, Mole Architects, Rabble Architecture, TDO
  • Executive civil engineer: Expedition
  • Executive structural engineer: Whitby Wood
  • Environmental engineers: Atelier Ten
  • Transport: WSP, Urban Movement
  • Timber engineers: Eurban
  • Ecology: Ecology Solutions
  • Planning consultant: Whaleback
  • Cost consultant: RUA

Smales, founder and CEO of Human Nature, said: “The current mainstream model of development is catastrophic, baking in deeply unsustainable fabric, infrastructure and transport, fuelling the climate and nature crises; it also creates social divisions and exacerbates loneliness.

“We aim to show that living sustainably can be a joy, not an exercise in self-denial, made far easier by the design of neighbourhoods.”

“Our focus on radically improving environmental and social impacts through the power of placemaking is uncommon in 21st-century Britain. But the result won’t feel unfamiliar, rather a return to traditions we’ve forgotten.”

“Pheonix will be a place of elegantly designed buildings made using local materials, streets safe for children to play in, with most daily needs met within a short walk and where it’s easy to meet and socialise with your neighbours.”

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