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A questionable endeavour

Ian Martin presents to Institute of Plasmic Arts

MONDAY Knocking out a luxury floating village for the Royal Docks. It’s a difficult community to gate, so I’m trying to persuade a celebrity architect to design some stylish floating mines embedded with crystals.

TUESDAY Tweak masterplan for the Midlands, replacing Wolverhampton with a freestyle urban mix underpinned by fat basslines and a massive grid.

WEDNESDAY Oh shit. I agreed months ago to speak at a conference. It’s today at the Institute of Plasmic Arts. I’ve turned up without a thought in my head.

The theme is Randomised Creativity: Turn Unwanted Luck Into Cash! I promised, apparently, to present something after lunch on The Question As Generator Of Epic Space. With images. I’ve got to fill half an hour.

Luckily I have a hat, bought in a panic on the way over. It doesn’t quite fit properly, so it’s perfect. I’ve brought my laptop, so I can plug that in and ‘surf the net’ like it’s 1999. Good, yeah, think retro. I put my hat on backwards. Half an hour, say five minutes per question, open it up to the audience, sorted.

I quickly devise six meaningless questions guaranteed to pediment an audience of architects, artists, auteurs and we’re not even onto the Bs yet.

The first question I pose to my audience of serious-minded liberals: ‘Is texture the new fragrance?’ I repeat the question thoughtfully, the way vicars do. I throw the question out to the audience and they’re on it like gulls squabbling over a discarded pie.

They think texture is definitely the new fragrance. Visitors to show homes are braced for the smell of baking bread or vanilla, and laugh at the estate agent for thinking punters are that suggestible.

Estate agents now like to have textured stone and rough artisan brickwork for the visitors to caress. It works just as well. I show some pictures of sand, and rubble.

My next question: ‘How fat is your faceprint?’ This is popular with bearded men and women with luminous grey hair. The audience tosses the question around playfully, as if passing a large beach ball one to another.

Faceprint, we decide, is a great way to combine the notions of facade and footprint in a loose and non-prescriptive way, impressing clients who really like wind and straw. I show some pictures of bales, and lambs.

‘True or magnetic north?’ That’s my third question, and the audience dutifully goes all solemn about the disparity of wealth between where they live and anywhere north of Berkhamsted.

It’s a scandal, and almost certainly explains the question, which might have something to do with perception and prejudice, who cares. I show some pictures of Halifax, and Carlisle.

‘Do houses dream of electric anxiety?’ I explain that this question is merely the point of departure for a journey of reflection. How useful is it, we wonder, to imagine that a building might be sentient?

We agree it’s quite an exciting thought but also possibly pointless, which makes it all somehow much more interesting. I don’t show any pictures for this one, which makes everyone smile a bit and nod, wisely.

‘Is modern Modernism just Postmodernism but with a neo-Modernism coat on?’

This time, instead of throwing it out there, I keep it very much up here. It’s just a passing thought. I don’t know how that got in there!
Everyone laughs. This is brilliant. I show some pictures of the South Bank, and a Shard pepper grinder.

‘If only time will tell, should architecture be a narrative?’ Running out of time myself now, so have to hurry this one along.

I ask for a show of hands. Roughly two-thirds of the audience think architecture should be a narrative, which is good enough for me. I show some pictures of books, and beach huts.

Standing ovation! This is money for old … oh, I see. They’re doing it ironically.

THURSDAY Sketch out an idea for an affordable home.

The client’s parents have a house in Arundel, so I just stick a photo of that on a sheet of A4 and scribble ‘They won’t live forever’ above it.

FRIDAY Produce abstract painting in lieu of work.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Working Classical 0, Brutalism As Plinth 3.

SUNDAY Question self in recliner. Get answers more or less correct.

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