Last Saturday I packed my life into the back of a van and headed for a new home. From Stoke Newington in north east London, where I’ve lived for the past three years, I drove south — past the glass and steel of the City, over the slow meandering Thames, through the urban grit of Elephant, Brixton and Streatham — and eventually popped up in the green suburbs of south London.
The flat I’ve moved into is a bit special and you can’t really miss the development that it’s part of as you approach. Peeping out from between the roofs of the surrounding conventional late twentieth century flats and semidetached interwar houses are brightly coloured curved chimneys. Technically they’re called ‘cowls’ and are actually heat reclaimers, harnessing energy from the warm air that rises from the flats and houses below. On a day like today they sway gently in the wind, lining up as if they’re all looking at the same thing on the horizon.
The development is called BedZED (short for Beddington Zero Energy Development) and isn’t far from Sutton. I’ve known about it since I was working at Forum for the Future; I remember going to a packed out talk given by architect Bill Dunster just as they were starting to lay the foundations. I was always excited by the prospect of housing that was environmentally sustainable but actually great to live in but somehow didn’t imagine that I’d be able to live here.
It’s now been open for two years and general consensus seems to be that it ‘works’. That’s certainly my experience so far (the AAA energy rated washing machine is my favourite gadget of week one). It’s also just a very lovely place to be and very friendly. Yesterday evening I got to meet some of the other residents for the first time at a BedZED barbecue held around a campfire on the allotments.
Things are still a bit chaotic for me as I don’t really have any furniture yet and the piles of boxes are only slowly getting emptied. I have managed to borrow a tiny bit of wifi from somebody else though until mine gets installed in a week or so.
As time goes on, I’ll try to give you a picture of sustainable living from the perspective of someone living here at BedZED. There have been countless TV and newspaper appearances for the place (a neighbour’s garden was done for a TV makeover show just yesterday) but hopefully I’ll be able to give a slightly more considered commentary over the months and (hopefully) years.
In the meantime, you can find out more at these three sites: