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Lunch, subterfuge, special glasses and the tyranny of a multi-dimensional world

Ian Martin reaches for the 2-D specs

Monday. Teaching at Tamworth School of Architecture. I’m much more interested in hearing students’ ideas about the world than in imposing my own reactionary Weltanschauung, which can be quite intimidating, especially if barked.

I’m all for them working up their charming ‘theoretical urban interventions’. The perilous journey from Concept to Sketch defines the student’s unique view of things – how they think about form and mass, how to express an aesthetic quality in caption form, the meaning of light, etc. Also, it’s less work for me and leaves time for a proper lunch.

I say ‘teaching’, I’ve actually been asked by the school’s CEO to help with their rationalisation of student resources, i.e. students. Brutal times call for ruthless measures; there’s to be a cull of underachievers and/or low payers. They want me to sieve the students, so that they’re left with just the ‘M&Ms’: motivated and minted.

Tuesday. Meanwhile in the wider world of Arts &Ents & Life & Style, there’s anxiety about the sudden crisis of confidence in the 3-D film industry and the impact this will have on architecture.

When Avatarcame out it was easy to persuade young people that the world of epic space is ‘supercool’ as it a) provides the backdrop for human drama, in the manner of a top-end videogame and b) you can see architecture in 3-D, at any time, without complicated spectacles. If there’s a strong enough swing back to 2-D in cinemas it could drag the plastic arts along with it in a treacherous cultural undertow.

A two-dimensional world? That would mean practising (and teaching) architecture as a form of surface decoration applied to software-designed, articulated boxes. Architects would be merely exterior wallpaperists. Nightmare. Next thing you know, we’ll all be wearing 2-D glasses to flatten out the built environment. Let’s see how Londoners manage on their Boris Bikes THEN.

Wednesday. Seminar. A dozen assorted students, plenty of nervous energy yet somehow limp and deconstructed. I decide to set up an ironic mood by opening several bottles of Mateus Rosé. It’s a trick I learned years ago: you can get middle class young people pissed more quickly if they think it’s some kitsch homage to Working Class Posh. Plus, if they’re architecture students, two glasses and they’re wankered.

I ask them how many dimensions they’d have in an ideal world. The conservative hipster majority, after some consideration and hair-fiddling, stick with the three we’ve got. A very serious young man with writing on his hooded top reckons one dimension should be all the world needs, that way there’d be enough linear reality to go round. A young woman, a bit tipsy and pedantic, points out that time is a required fourth dimension, as without epic time there
can be no epic space.

After more wine and introspection, we tentatively construct a world where up to 12 dimensions are allowed but you have to have planning permission to go above five, with the usual disclaimers about lost property.

Thursay. I ask the students to imagine ‘King’s Cross, 2111’. What kind of morphoses might
we see, and why, and will they be weird-looking? The notion of transport – might that be supplanted by some kind of futuristic thinking? Will phrases such as ‘commuter’ and ‘flat white’ and ‘unmetered air’ be archaic and unknowable? How will people ‘walk’, and will pavements be like sluggish smartplasma travelators, maybe even veering off into the air? Will new materials allow us to build up into the ionosphere, perhaps connecting with a geo-engineered deep space energy mantle thrown around the Earth like chainmail armour? What non-diegetic music do we hear in our heads in 2111 – STILL synthesisers, really? How will the new things of one hundred years hence fit in with the old things of now? Is it OK to anticipate a zeitgeist, or does that totally spoil the future?

Their first hurdle: writing ‘King’s Cross 2111’ at the top of a page and working out where the apostrophe goes.

Friday. Some great ideas: ‘travel pills’ to get around, layered space, soft buildings, people coded into data streams, buildings that resemble hedgehogs and cakes. Decide one-dimensional guy should be retained – he’s got a trust fund – and the rest dumped.

Saturday. Can’t teach, so do.

Sunday. Go four-dimensional in the recliner by remaining in it all day.

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