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Accentuating the vernacular, eliminating the publicly accountable, latching on to the hortus conclusus

Ian Martin reluctantly cancels the Festival of Mercia

Monday. I’m redesigning a mews housing scheme in an upwardly mobile part of Manchester.

The planners wanted something reflecting the ‘industrial vernacular’ character of the area, so I modelled it on a nearby disused rail freight depot. Shuttered entrances big enough for lorries, long blank grimy walls articulated with flyers for prostitutes and computer fairs, and the dappled remnants of 1990s gig posters.

They hated it. So did the client, who wanted the scheme to ‘enhance the lifestyle offer’ to media hipsters in hats. It now looks like a timeshare complex in Tel Aviv.

How to persuade the planners it’s ‘industrial vernacular’? Solution: strong, heavily-engineered language in the press release.

Tuesday. Emergency meeting of the Tamworth League. With regret, we’re cancelling all Festival of Mercia activities.

The idea was to mark the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain with contemporary celebrations of civic endeavour. Unfortunately our funding has been reduced by the Department of Entertainment from £18 million to three hundred quid. Farewell, Biodome of Rediscovery. The government obviously prefers to spaff our taxes on Arabian military adventures and the bloody Royal Wedding.

Well London will be laughing on the other side of its FAT FACE when Mercia’s economy picks up and we launch a proper cultural counterattack. There will be huge public buildings resembling medieval armour and trembling fish and gas clouds and bongo drums and orbs of light and items of stationery and cartoon insects and stacked waffles and all sorts.

For now, we’re declaring a no-fly zone from Lancashire to Oxfordshire and celebrating republican civil partnerships.

Wednesday. The latest report into how our schools procurement system should be reformed sets out some tough challenges. The toughest is making sense of the report.

Some bits are clear: ‘Demand-led programmes, such as free schools, are most sensibly funded from the centre and a centrally retained budget should be set aside for them’.

Presumably all the money forfeited by schools which refuse to adopt Academy status will be aggregated into a yummy money slush fund. This could mount up, as non-Academies are braced to lose a third of their funding.

On the plus side: lots more ‘urban village’ schools based on the Just William stories.

Some bits are opaque: ‘Notional budgets should be apportioned to local authority areas, empowering them fully to decide how best to reconcile national and local policy priorities in their own local contexts. A specific local process, involving all responsible bodies, and hosted by the local authority, should prioritise how this notional budget should be used…’

Summary: we either commit ourselves to the plain English of free schools with Latin mottoes, or we languish in some discredited Blairite reality where sentences make the same noise as a failing dishwasher.

Despite the yelping from certain quarters, the analysis of what was wrong with the Building Profits for the Future scheme is accurate. Schemes were financially prodigal. And atomised, lacking the oversight of regional centres of planning and architectural excellence acting in the public interest as clients AND project sponsors.

No wonder we haven’t had a decent run of buildings since Colin Stansfield Smith and the Hampshire Schools. I know people worry about a return to the 1980s, but I think we’re safe on this one.

Thurday. Extraordinary news. Hampshire County Council will get £55 million a year less in government funding and is accordingly cutting its planning team by a quarter and ‘offering voluntary redundancy to staff in its architecture office’!

It’s no surprise they’re trimming things, but quite a shock to see the phrase ‘architecture office’.

Friday. Redesign the Channel 5 Big Brother House, giving it a more ‘titsy’, made-up vibe.

Saturday. Too nice to be indoors, so I spend the afternoon in what we are all now calling a ‘hortus conclusus’ – a contemplative space for which the main building acts as a backdrop.

The experience is like a visit to a world class pavilion designed by a universally-acclaimed architect. We linger in the main building for a while, savouring its gloomy and restless syntax. Then, ‘transitioning’ from interior to exterior, we enter a delightful oasis, public/egalitarian yet private/intimate, abstracted from the world of work and care. A place to sit and relax.

Until a fortnight ago we all called it a beer garden.

Sunday. Suspend all cognitive powers in the recliner.

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