Human + Nature is a development strategy business, investor and master developer. We assemble land, enter into partnerships and joint venture, invest, put together teams of outstanding specialists (from a network we have created over 30 years of work in the built environment), and run them as close-knit, inter-disciplinary teams to plan and design elegant and exceptionally sustainable developments, place and communities.
We are deeply rooted in sustainability which is our value base and our campaign.
In the 21st-century humankind has unprecedented opportunities for prosperity, health, self-expression and fulfilment. It is an exciting time to be alive. But there are of course great challenges too as we grow, including: profound demographic change, new technology and markets impacting all aspects of life almost daily, stresses in social cohesion, the cracks appearing in our shared values and common humanity - perhaps even the erosion of a sense of belonging somewhere; not least we continue to degrade local and global environments where climate change, the loss of habitat, biodiversity and of wild places affects us all.
Many of these issues are not just new they are new types of opportunities and challenges and they demand a new type of response.
In the worlds of design, planning and real estate we have been slow in anticipating or responding to these shifts. There have been many exciting one-off projects, but integrated, joined-up thinking and action for sustainable place is rare.
A new generation of compact, mixed-use and innovative, multi-tenure social places and spaces is required that deploys good economics, great design and outstanding new technology wisely to minimise or eliminate net environmental impact and regenerate built and natural environments and infrastructures so that future communities can prosper. Human + Nature has been created to help meet this need.
In the UK, as in many other countries around the world, new homes are urgently needed. While acknowledging the need to build these homes at speed, a step-change in quality and sustainability is badly needed. Human + Nature aims to build places with great care endowing them with the character and qualities to endure and become loved, to be resilient and to both shape and adapt to a fast-changing world.
Human + Nature is a new-generation sustainable developments business. We plan, design finance and build elegant, popular and bespoke locations of choice where people can find a place to start out in life as well as a place to stay, whatever their circumstances.
The way places are made and managed matters.
At Human + Nature we believe that how human settlements are planned, designed, built and managed has a profound effect on quality of everyone’s everyday life. Moreover, successful places generate neighbourliness, pleasant and repeated informal social interaction and community cohesion, economic vitality and can safeguard or even enhance local and global environments.
The triumph of successful places is not just that they make us feel at home – rooting us in a geography and a community - they also mould our individual and collective behaviours, affecting what we do and even who we are.
“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” said Winston Churchill, famously. And consider how much more this applies to the layout and design not just of individual buildings but of whole places and their infrastructure.
We once knew how to design compact, fine-grained villages, neighbourhoods, towns and cities – teeming with visual and other interest and life; these are places we have come to cherish and if we can’t live in them we love to visit whenever we can. These places had strong identities, they are necessarily complex but still legible; they avoided the worst sprawl, reduced the need to travel by car alone and put important public services such as shops, schools and GPs in centres and along main streets within reach of all. Such settlements are often from a different era of course – products of their time. But it is amazing how they have stood the test of time. Could we look at them again, distil the learning from them, add new learning and technology and build fine places fit for the 21st-century?
The form and function of the built environment and its enabling infrastructure derives from a series of choices. We could plan for and otherwise create the conditions in which distinctive and bespoke places form, where communities are nurtured and thrive and that are inherently welcoming and neighbourly. We can make places and spaces that invite children to be outside and play safely on streets and in parks.
We could design places that make it easy, safe and pleasurable to walk and cycle, to share transport, to run clean vehicles; we could build communities that keep the air we breathe clean, are full of productive greenery and life and that delight us as we go about our daily lives (even as they provide valuable habitats for birds and other wildlife, cut pollution and eliminate the risk of flooding).
And we could make places that provide something for all with housing of many different tenures, price points, configurations and designs, blended together in the rich mix of a complex neighbourhood or quarter – and all with a view to inspiring and enabling well-being and social cohesion.
We know how to do these things. But instead the drift is towards generic, soul-less, unsafe and even hostile built environments and clumsy infrastructure that divide rather than bring us together.
A campaigning business
For us this is something of a campaign not just a business. And we know that to succeed, all aspects of a project have to be tuned to the outcomes we and our host communities aim for. Everything has to be done differently.
We and our partners must innovate in IMPACT finance and in investment and economic protocols; in ownership models, joint ventures and other forms of collaboration; in the way we establish and run our inter-disciplinary teams; how we make and manage buildings; how we use technology, and in the way we think about and provide for our future customers.
It is only when such a system of innovation is established – where investors are aligned everything is pulling in the same direction – that places can be made that can achieve the combined social, environmental and economic impacts we aspire to.
Our Competitive Position
Human + Nature’s competitive position has three pillars - deploying our experience and growing our networks and skills in:
a) city planning and urbanism (system change, quality and scaled-up super-efficiencies for economic and environmental performance )
b) engagement (new processes and relationships with communities, government, technology partners and future customers)
c) creativity (deep collaborations, great teams, rigorous design and problem-solving).
Underpinned by impact investment via aligned investors and partners – form landowners to city councils, social enterprises and kindred businesses – via a blended portfolio of projects at different scales and with different risk profiles and programmes, Human + Nature aims to become a powerful, long-term force for good.
Human Nature Leadership Team
Michael Manolson (MBA), Managing Partner
Michael Manolson has led and managed organizations and change processes at a community, corporate, and societal level for more than forty years. He received his MBA from McGill University in organization design and business strategy and remained affiliated with McGill as an advisor and part time faculty for many years.
After a lengthy involvement with Greenpeace including as Canadian Executive Director and US Chairman of the Board, Michael shifted from broad based global issues to a more place based approach. He was recruited into ICLEI (the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), a UN affiliated worldwide association of city governments engaged in sustainable urban development, serving as Deputy Secretary General for seven years. His engagement with sustainable development and the built environment continued with a role as Director at the Earth Centre, a UK Millennium and European Commission funded project designed to showcase best sustainable and environmental practice, where he led the £20 million second Phase of the project.
In 2001, Michael moved to the corporate world joining the Genesis Consulting Group as a partner in organizational design, transformation and leadership, strategy development and delivery. He has worked primarily with senior management in several multinationals including Unilever, Novartis, and T-Mobile. His association with Unilever has spanned 15 years where he has also been actively engaged in the company’s growing commitment and focus on sustainability.
Having known and worked with Jonathan Smales on various initiatives since their shared tenure at Greenpeace, he has joined forces with him to create Human Nature (Places) and act as Managing Partner.
Jonathan Smales (BA, IHSM), Executive Chairman
Over 30 years in sustainable development, Jonathan’s first foray into real estate was when as MD of Greenpeace he bought and refurbished an old animal testing laboratory in Islington in 1989 to become Greenpeace UK’s new HQ; it was the first commercial green building in London.
Over the subsequent 27 years Jonathan has become a leader in sustainable design and urbanism. In 1990 he created and was CEO of the visionary and influential Earth Centre (which became a national millennium project in 1995), commissioning the UK’s finest architects and engineers. Between 2001 and 2015 he was Chairman of the Beyond Green group of companies, working across strategic built environment consultancy, direct development and communications.
Jonathan has advised city authorities, regeneration agencies, government agencies and blue chip private clients on values, vision and policies for place, climate change, and planning, public engagement, design and infrastructures for major new urban extensions, real estate and regeneration projects across the UK. In this capacity he has shaped schemes for over 100,000 homes now in the pipeline for delivery and evolved a suite of innovative typologies for urban blocks, housing, streets and other public realm as well as urban landscapes. Human Nature benefits from the network of skilled and empathetic designers and other built environment professionals established from this work.
Jonathan is a regular speaker in international forums on sustainability, real estate and regeneration, has been a trustee of four charities and founder of two, an adviser to the Mayor of Hannover on the World EXPO 2000, worked on both the London 2012 Olympic Park and its Legacy, was a member of the Design Advisory Board for the Mayor of London, ran the Remarkable Cities programme at Pembroke College Cambridge, and having written the sustainability principles for CABE, became a CABE enabler and member of its Infrastructure Projects Panel.
Richard Powell BSc (Hons) MRICS, Senior non-executive director and adviser
Richard is a property development and project finance expert specialising in creating and leading teams responsible for strategic, business and project planning.
His expertise includes all aspects of the development cycle from business planning to the execution of projects including town planning, design, development, viability, investment, funding, land sale and development agreements, partnership agreements, risk management, estate regeneration, construction, property and estate management, public affairs, sales and marketing strategies.
Richard trained as a chartered surveyor at DTZ before joining the Property and Projects team at KPMG. He was a founding member of the HM Treasury Taskforce creating and mobilising PFI/PPP within Government. At the end of 2002 he joined Lend Lease leading the team that competed and won the development rights for 52 acres at Elephant & Castle, as well as leading the team that secured land interests at Stratford City involving the creation of the Olympic Village.
Richard joined Capital & Counties PLC in 2009 to lead the giant Earls Court project securing a 10m sq ft planning consent and engineering land deals with the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and Transport for London. He was recruited in 2013 by Grosvenor as an Executive Director, being the Board member responsible for development and investments off the London estate including PRS schemes in London and Edinburgh, strategic land interests in Oxford and Cambridge, and a leisure and residential scheme in Southampton.
In 2016 he decided to set up on his own to take a more direct interest in a small number of large and high profile development projects including Human Nature’s major scheme in Norwich and wider portfolio.
Richard was a member of Mayor’ of London’s Design Advisory Group between 2011 and 1016, is a CABE Built Environment Expert, a member of the Cambridge Ahead Board and chairs its Housing Sub-Committee. He is also a Non-Executive Director of an innovative affordable housing company.
Richard H Gibbs, MSC, BSC (Est Man), MRICS, Commercial Partner
Rick is a Chartered Surveyor with over 30 years post qualification experience principally in the investment, development and property finance markets. He has been a partner of a major international practice (Chesterton), a director of a specialist real estate private equity firm (Palmer Capital Partners) and property director of a leading international education company (INTO University Partners Ltd).
Rick’s strengths include a sound understanding of property viability assessments, financing (both debt and equity) and the structuring of associated Joint Venture vehicles. He has also significant direct experience development having led the site assembly and viability assessment for the Strata - a 42 storey, 400 unit, 250,000 sq ft, £300m GDV residential tower in Elephant & Castle - with Multiplex Developments. Rick was the ‘architect’ of an innovative JV financing structure and sat on the international Board of the JV Co.
As property Director of IUP Ltd, Rick played a major role in devising an innovative property finance and JV structure responsible for delivering a programme of over £200m GDV/500,000 sq ft of specialised university accommodation between 2006 and 2015.
Rick has a particular interest in and specialist understanding of resort and ‘destination’ facilities and enjoys a wide network of relationships in this sector.
We are planning neighbourhoods that are a joy to live and work in:
· in which the streets are designed primarily for people, where walking and cycling are prioritised, the air is clean and it is safe for children to play;
· comprised of adaptable urban blocks with verve and individual character, designed to sit well on the street, which work at the human scale, house different activities and frame the urban space for both efficiency and pleasure;
· where our outstanding design teams have created elegant, sensuous and diverse architectures that lift the spirit and possess the depth and quality to endure and become loved;
· and which give rise to open, civil, creative and entrepreneurial communities where people join in and pull together;
· that are alive with productive green and open spaces and other public realm where people can relax and play and where ecology thrives;
· where energy, water and resource infrastructures and superb new technologies that take the strain of planetary responsibility even as they deliver essential services cost-efficiently to our residents;
· in which there is a wide choice in housing sizes, tenures and types – from professionally managed private rental, rent-to-buy and cooperative/shared housing, to owner occupied homes in terraces, and apartment villas to duplexes in adaptable town houses.
· housing designed and priced to accommodate all types, pockets and tastes;
· where we retain a carried interest in maintaining and managing places and buildings well – from PRS to commercial and cultural enterprises - so that they age with grace and charm and Human + Nature places become ever more desirable locations of choice and therefore excellent investments.
“Sustainability is a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems”
Understanding great places
Teams are invited to shape and have ownership of the vision and driving concepts of every project so that these can more easily be translated into affordable detailed designs and specifications later, avoiding the erosion of quality and performance that occurs through post hoc value engineering.
We work hard to ensure an integrated and practical approach. In his business Steve Jobs called this ‘deep collaboration’. We think of it simply as the best way to solve complex problems, achieving excellence in urbanism and development.
Our work is grounded in a serious study and understanding of urban geography and urbanism – the science and art of how the cities, towns, neighbourhoods and streets we love are great and how they become great.
We are committed to working with outstanding designers and engineers from all disciplines. We bring our cost and construction specialists and market and customer experts in to the design process from the outset.
We seek out partnerships and collaboration with landowners and investors, public bodies, entrepreneurs and creatives of all kinds, as well as kindred spirits in development.
Uplifting, successful places are the product of multiple forces and actors being tuned towards and eventually aligned to common goals backed up by cogent methodologies and tried and tested mechanisms. Our Managing Partner, Michael Manolson, is a world-class process engineer and enabler and together we get the best out of the bespoke teams we assemble for each project.
The life-enhancing qualities of sustainable developments
All of our work is underpinned by the values of sustainability- meeting human needs and aspirations and fulfilling capabilities and potential while acting to enhance the built and living environments.
“Communities are all different, but you know when you are in one”
Human + Nature seeks to exemplify the life-enhancing qualities of sustainable developments in the real world as we find it today, not some hoped for utopian future. We aim to demonstrate sustainability in action by offering people the experience of it in reassuringly familiar and excellent places and homes.
Making places at scale: small is beautiful, big is necessary
We are making places – at scale - that will both inspire and make it easier for people to live well and sustainably: this is about the potentially virtuous relationship between where we live and how we live.
Places to start and places to stay
Human + Nature developments and communities are places to belong to, places to start out in life, and places to stay with a wide range of prices and types blended at close quarters.
We are assembling a portfolio of opportunities that, in due course, will range from strategic land for town-scale new settlements and city extensions, to neighbourhood renewal and regeneration projects, urban intensifications and smaller, village-based schemes.
“ No urban area will prosper unless it can attract people who can choose to live wherever they like”
Professor Jonathan Barnett
The Human + Nature leadership team draws upon extensive experience of international green cities and city networks, urbanism, urban design and public realm, residential, commercial, leisure and cultural architectures and construction, analysis, appraisals and modelling, and innovative deal structures.
We are happy working in public/private partnerships and with complex funding arrangements and fund raising, and have run political, community and wider stakeholder processes for some of the biggest projects in the UK. We’re good at assembling bespoke teams for each job and running a sound process to get the best results in terms of design, build-ability, cost-efficiencies and indeed value - especially over the long term.
“Cities are the defining artefacts of civilization. All the achievements and failings of humanity are here. We shape the city, and the city shapes us”