After the looting, Broken Britain clears away the debris – and the architecture
Ian Martin has a riot
MONDAY. The outbreak of savage lawlessness in English cities earlier this month has inevitably prompted a wave of nostalgia among older architects for the good old days of environmental determinism.
Then, social disorder was ascribed to architects and their evil genius. Young people nowadays, with their smartphones and sinister clothes and neologisms: they literally have NO EXCUSE for bad behaviour. Worse, architects have nothing to do with it.
At least in the 1980s, there was some kind of moral narrative. Disaffected youths were moulded by the heartless socialism of council estates, incited by nihilistic and violent urban geography. Yeah, and while the poor lived in these horrible shitty gulags it was common knowledge that Your Typical Architect – like a stylish Bond villain, all cold and sneery and probably called Goldfinger or something – lived in an entire Georgian terrace, cruelly knocked through to form one enormous Mies van der Rohe Nazi jazz interior.
Yet a generation later architecture is nowhere in the list of root causes. Murder, violent muggings, arson, opportunistic looting, vandalism and worst of all assaults on innocent property have happened without architects being accused of complicity.
And as those old googie woogie cats used to say: ‘if you don’t get the blame, you ain’t in the game’.
TUESDAY. Lunch with the Prince of Wales. He and his vegetable garden have been through all this before.
At least HRH still believes architecture has a role to play in healing our wounded society. But then he also believes a stick of celery is sacred because it looks like a fluted pilaster.
As we weave through the broccoli maze he waxes lyrical. ‘Defensible space, you see. Defensible space. Saying this for decades. Absolutely key. Look. No riots in THIS vegetable garden, thanks very much, eh? Eh?’
The secret service guys give him a casual salute with their automatic weapons as we pass.
WEDNESDAY. To a conference: Joined-Up Rioting. It is every bit as pointless and flat-footed as it sounds.
Fair enough, it’s been cobbled together at the very last minute by Dearboy & Dearboy Events Ltd, specialists in this kind of corporate social aftermath awayday. But at £235 + VAT per delegate, I think we all expected better coffee and a decent lunch.
There’s an architectural solemnity, of course. The chairman is Tristram Boing, professor of human popography at Croydon University. ‘What brings us all together here today – baffled, numb and clumsily rhetorical? At a basic level, as societal stakeholders, we are a liberal self-help group, of course. Yet at a more significant level, are we not looking for something else? Not commercial opportunities, no. Obviously not. But ways in which to help, certainly’.
Inspiring as it is, this rallying of architects to the cause gets a bit wearing after about the eighth practice principal has sauntered to the stage to talk about ‘inclusivity’ when we all know that they mean ‘design contracts’. There are only so many gang leaders that you can listen to, banging on about ownership of corners.
We’re all nodding off in the afternoon when a representative from the Home Office mentions in passing that there will be a new funding stream for social engineering repairs. Suddenly everyone’s covering their faces and arranging meetings on their BlackBerrys.
THURSDAY. Emergency lunch with Rock Steady Eddie the fixer, who’s in no doubt about where the next niche sector will be: Moral Regeneration PFI.
‘We need to get our ducks in a row on this one, chev,’ he says. ‘All them values collapsing in society. We want to be out there mate, sucking our teeth. Pitching for a privatised state, and underpinning works for all them small businesses. You going to eat that sausage?’
FRIDAY. The Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects has finally returned from its well-deserved holiday.
The mere presence of the RIPBA is reassuring. And although it has taken slightly longer to return from Tuscany than the prime minister, the institute has gone back to work with vigour and diligence. By teatime, still in shorts and a Panama hat, it has issued a statement confirming that an exhibition of Victorian lithographs sponsored by Waitrose will occur in the library later this year.
SATURDAY. Five-a-zeitgeist political football. Human Rights Act 1, Health and Safety Gone Mad 1.
SUNDAY. Quell some mental disquiet by environmentally determining myself in the recliner.