Lost in epic f*cking space
How Ian Martin became the foremost piss-taker of architecture, then politics. Rory Olcayto interviews the AJ’s star columnist and author of The Coalition Chronicles
If the AJ Writing Prize was for the best essay on ‘epic space’, the winner would surely be The Creative on Sunday’s Darcy Farquear’say. In a five-page spread on
Cockbun + Melisma’s Shonky House in Dalston, east London, he writes: ‘Here, a torqued baton of freshlybaked radicalism still warm from the mind-oven of
Britain’s most exciting hipster collective… effortless visual hyperbole, from the Klimt pebbledashing to an ironic security fence… a defiant, snot-nosed punk of
a building, it stands pissed and gobby amid the square drabness of its terrified neighbours, brandishing its planning permission like an Asbo.’
Who else has got the nerve to write so… accurately? Darcy, and his ‘trophy dachshund’ Bauhau, is of course* fictional, one of many brilliant caricatures created by
former AJ news editor Ian Martin for his back-page column, a piss-take of the world of ‘epic space’ hammered out weekly for over 22 years. Remember Norman Conquest, ‘the charmless tit who angered the RIPBA’? His appearance in Martin’s column in 2006 coincided with BNP member Peter Philips’ bid to become RIBA president: ‘I expect every stout-hearted architectural yeoman now flying the flag of St George to vote for me.’ Idiot, as Martin would say. And Molly Bismuth, the incumbent president of RIPBA introduced this year (that’s the Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects) who wants ‘everything to be more pop-up and FUNK-AY!’
Martin’s career began when he joined the architectural press in the 1980s, starting with a stint at Building Design because he ‘needed a job a bus ride away’. When he joined the AJ, says Martin, ‘the bloke I replaced as news editor was a beacon of cultured learning, loved and admired by the profession. I was ignorant and vulgar.’ Architecture was ‘a culture shock’. But this distance and tension is the reason why Martin writes more perceptively about the profession than anybody else.
Martin also writes lots of other stuff that has nothing to do with ‘the plasmic arts’. Perhaps you’ve heard that he is the swearing consultant on BBC political satire The Thick of It - he puts the words into Malcolm Tucker’s filthy mouth - but he’s actually a full-blown scriptwriter for the BAFTA-winning show. He also writes Veep, a new HBO comedy set in the office of the US vice-president, with Armando Iannucci. And there’s The Coalition Chronicles, published last month, a very rude, very funny, very angry book targeting Cameron and Clegg and their ‘shit-awful Cabinet of Entitlement’. It’s Martin’s ‘howl of rage’ against a pompous, navel-gazing, greedy world.
Everyone from Stephen Fry to Lady Gaga, but mostly ‘wankers in charge’, gets ripped to shreds. But then,hating things is funny, as Martin tweeted recently. At the Unite-sponsored launch in Westminster’s Red Lion pub last month, standing on a chair to be seen, Martin explained to his audience - Twitter fans (he’s got more than 11,000 followers), media types (David Quantick, India Knight) and friends (me, Hugh Pearman, Owen Hatherley and the Independent’s Simon Carr) - precisely why he wrote the book. ‘I’m 58, OK? It’s my civic duty to be a socialist reactionary.’
The Coalition Chronicles, presented as a series of scenes such as The Iraq Inquiry, Appearance by Tony Blair and Polled Opinions and Banterings: Prime Minister’s Listening Time, has its origins in Martian.fm, a satirical website he began with his brother Paul more than 10 years ago. It featured Hansard Late, a skit on parliamentary transcripts, with ‘added heavy duty swearing’. Hardly anyone read it, says Martin, apart from sketch writer Simon Carr. ‘But eight years ago, Iannucci did read it, liked it and invited me to work for him. It was a massive break.’ The rest, as Tucker might say, is fucking history.
Despite its more political content, one part of Martian.fm is dedicated to ‘epic space’. It’s called Architecture No: Rebuilding the thought environment.
It has links to Jazz Architecture (by Darcy Farquear’say) and the 17th Century Forum, which asks ‘five leading 17th century architects’ for their views on whether
today’s architecture is as good as theirs (‘It made me incline to vomit after one houre of taking, with much sweat and spitting,’ says Wren of the ‘Gherkin’). There
are entries too from Kevin MacCloud’s Diary and a help page with Babie Pampers, rude ethnic design consultant. It’s finely crafted and wickedly funny, like all of Martin’s work. He clearly cares deeply for his profession ‘stuffed with clever, kind people’. But then if you’ve ever read his column, you’ll know this already.
Read a full transcript of Ian Martin’s speech at his book launch here