Dreaming of a life beyond carbon monoxide
Ian Martin calls in Tracey, Banksy, Damien and Grayson to imagine Preston’s Progressive Omnibus Terminus
MONDAY To the Royal Institute for the Pop-Uption of British Architects, where I’m mindstorming with president Molly Bismuth and her team of ‘blue-sky artist impressionists’.
Everyone agrees we need to remodel the structure of the profession. Times have changed since the Great Reconfiguration of 1894, when gentlemen won the right to practise without a waistcoat.
For decades the profession was dominated by white, middle-class blokes. Then came deregulation under Thatcher and liberation under the lying shit Blair, who declared everyone middle class. Overnight, anyone could afford to train to be an architect, which is why the profession is such a vibrant mix of women, black and ethnic minorities, and people from poor families who feel relaxed and sophisticated about incurring massive debt. There is still much to be done of course. We all hope that Britain may have its first gay architect before too long.
Our initial session explores the idea of creating a new stratum of ‘fun architects’. Untrained amateurs who, nevertheless, wouldn’t mind having a go, without the hassle of a dress code. They would of course pay a notional annual fee to the RIPBA.
Our scattered starling thoughts suddenly swarm into coherent formation. Finding new ways of charging annual fees might actually be more useful than restructuring the profession! We adjourn until next month, to rest our minds.
TUESDAY Redesign Egypt, making it less ‘touristy’.
WEDNESDAY It is a tragedy on several levels that Preston’s Modernist landmark, the Progressive Omnibus Terminus, is to be demolished.
Firstly, there’s no question that it’s a timeless Brutalist masterpiece. Designed by formalist gangster collective Gott Carter Associates in the late 1960s, it is the only building worth looking at for miles, and loved by anyone who can’t smell it. Cleverly rebadged in the 1990s as ‘much more than a bus station!’ it has nevertheless remained, essentially, a bus station. Alas, the worldview contextualising it has changed from optimistic belief in collective living to atomised apathy.
Secondly, the local authority’s cynically using new ‘reversible loose-fit’ planning legislation to get rid of it. Under the provisions of the controversial Big Society and Country Planning Act 2012, it’s now possible to apply temporary structure approval to demolition. Just as the London Eye was allowed to exist initially only for a short time, to see ‘how it got on’, so owners are now allowed to ‘temporarily remove’ buildings for a trial period on the strict understanding that it will be ‘put back’ if things don’t work out.
Thirdly, and crucially, the demolition’s tragic because it means a long melancholy lunch with my old friend Dusty Penhaligon, the conservationist. ‘I despair, I really do,’ he says. He really does. For an hour and a half.
In Dusty’s ideal world the bus station would be refurbished and restored with extreme vigour. The sweeping concrete balustrades of the car park would be ‘pristinised’ with concrete made from 1960s cement and fag ash. Buses and cars would all be Leyland Titans and cranking handle-era Ford Anglias.
I tell him it’s the building he likes, not the bus station. Move the buses and cars somewhere else – a park, cathedral grounds, a hospice, I don’t give a flying toss, he’s really getting on my wick now – then convert the building into a ‘wiicon’. Where’s our brandy?
‘You mean an icon.’ he says. No, I don’t. Icons are bygones, daddio. Wiicons are the thing now. Turn a redundant landmark into a new attraction with a logo and some interactivity, call it a destination. You know famous arty types, I say. Get them to dream something up. Dusty sighs, squints thoughtfully into the distance and slowly rolls a cigarette. The brandy arrives, so I don’t have to stab him with a pudding fork.
THURSDAY Harness the power of the media to improve the London skyline by holding up a newspaper and obscuring the disgusting Shard.
FRIDAY Dusty’s been fishing in the art world and he’s landed some whoppers. Ideas in for Preston’s Progressive Omnibus Terminus so far: Banksy – Europe’s biggest graffiti barn; Grayson Perry – vibrant bicycle museum; Tracey Emin – embroidery call centre; Damien Hirst – squashed Tate,
full of half-size versions of his own work for sale, providing the building’s moved to Los Angeles.
SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Assemblage 5, Dissemblage 6 after extra cheating.
SUNDAY Horizontalise the historic ‘me-scape’ in the recliner.