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Towards a Novelty Architecture, with Novelty Vision and Novelty Regeneration

Ian Martin is served by gorgeous young Brazilian men in the Architecture Gentlemen’s Club

Monday. An evening of congenial debate in the Architectural Gentlemen’s Club. Marvellous atmosphere. Creaking leather armchairs. Gorgeous young Brazilian men silently ferrying brandies on silver trays. Etc.

I think this must be the last place left in London where women are still banned and you can smoke indoors. Naturally there are mutterings in the outside world about how we in the Architectural Gentlemen’s Club are dinosaurs of epic space, how unrepresentative we are of a progressive design profession. It’s the smoking they object to, of course. There aren’t enough ‘architectural ladies’ to complain meaningfully about the sexism.

I fall into sozzled, murmured conversation with Lord Kensitas of Highpoint, the club’s most respected epigrammatist. Playfully, he asks me what I think the ‘point’ of architecture is. Why, to ignite the human spirit, I venture. He laughs softly, dislodging some cake from his beard. ‘Ha ha, how quaint. The point of architecture, old boy, is to service capitalism by creating novelty…’

That’s very cynical, and useful. I’m in need of an architectural ‘memetrope’. Replacing ‘new’ with ‘novelty’ sounds very promising indeed.

Tuesday. Start sketching out a few notes for my book on early 21st-century architecture. Provisional title: The Shock of the Novelty.

Wednesday. Lunch with Scottish Henry, the Big Society Czar. Or as he styles himself these days, the BSC. ‘If it’s not BS, you won’t hear it coming out of my mouth’ he vows, needlessly.

We’re in deep liaison, as the coalition and the Tamworth League work out how to rearrange England. While the government masterplans its ‘Novelty Jerusalem’ south of Watford and north of Croydon, I’m working up plans for a revived Mercia based on the original Anglo-Saxon.

Our latest joint initiative is to gather all the remaining council tenants and transfer them to the Mercian Corridor, a quasi-autonomous region incorporating Wessex and Northumberland, with a firm commitment to delivering social justice. Indeed, Mercia will actively encourage local authorities to start a massive housebuilding programme, just as soon as we find out where the local authorities have disappeared to. As far as we can gather, they all went out to lunch a couple of years ago and nobody’s seen them since.

Thursday. Surprised and encouraged at how versatile and powerful my new ‘novelty’ memetrope is.

The Prince of Wales, for instance, is very enthusiastic about relaunching the New Urbanism movement as ‘Novelty Urbanism’. It makes a lot more sense of the drawings for his latest model village, which is full of little houses that look like beach huts, self-regulating trees, and power-walking wankers surging with a sense of haughty entitlement across pedestrianised roads. 

Friday. Check hate mail. There’s quite a lot of it this week from the conservationist/miserabilist/fascist tendency. They’re objecting to my proposed reworking of the Smithsons’ beleaguered Ivanhoe Estate.

Such snobs. Architecture must preserve the best from our past, build on that, and look to the future. You don’t need to tell me how seminal this development was. It marked a watershed in British housing. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the Smithsons, the most illustrious couple in 20th-century popular culture after Terry and June, Ma and Pa Larkin and that flirty pair from the old Gold Blend adverts.

Yet to listen to certain hoity-toity architects and their neurotic friends you’d think I was some kind of monster. It really irritates me, as I have preserved the Smithsons’ fundamental principle – lots of people living in the same place. And I have moved this notion on by proposing to demolish the existing 214 flats and replace them with around 1,700 novelty homes on an enlarged site known as Blackwall Inception. And please don’t tell me I have betrayed the egalitarian ethos of Tower Hamlets council either. They’ll make a fucking FORTUNE from the deal, to spend on whatever egalitarian treat for themselves they fancy.

Good design, as I never tire of pointing out, is about more than ‘buildings’. It’s about ‘regenerating the vision’. By obliterating the original Ivanhoe Estate and building high-density, lucrative yuppie flats I am confident that we can regenerate the Smithsons’ original vision.

If you don’t believe me, read the press release.

Saturday. I have rebadged my sinuous, glittering South London Gateway building – the Vauxhall Vajazzle – as ‘Novelty Modernist’. Maybe NOW we’ll see some pre-lets.

Sunday. Regenerate my novelty self-vision in the recliner, by falling asleep. All afternoon I am beyond ‘treading lightly’. I am ‘harmlessly suspended’.

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