Architecture schools, museums, iconic lumps of Birmingham – everything’s popping up roses
Ian Martin watches AAAble Builders Yes We Can accidentally go into administration
Monday. My pop-up architecture school’s nearing completion in Godalming. It’s only there for a fortnight, so will cost a fraction of the usual intolerable seven-year debt faced by young people. It incorporates a chip shop too, to encourage poorer students.
Tuesday. To Godalming for the popping-out ceremony. Access could be easier – it has been popped-up on a roundabout – but it does encourage students to engage directly with the environment (no toilets).
Wednesday. At last my £200 million, 46-storey Lump in Birmingham is ready for occupation. What a journey it’s been.
It was nicknamed The Lump on the planning application, more than five years ago. Partly because it resembles a glittering sugar lump. Also to plant the idea in the city council’s mind that they might want TWO Lumps at some point, to ‘sweeten’ the urban landscape. Then everything went wrong.
The neurotic senior planning officer who was championing the scheme in the face of some pretty fierce apathy at city hall had a breakdown. He appeared late, and naked, at the first committee meeting, shouting about minimalism and his mother. Then our client, The Lump It Development Company, went bust after bankrolling a floating leisure resort for Dubai in the shape of zoo animals. The slightest disturbance from a nearby marina and that giraffe’s head was always coming off. ‘Pontoon’ and ‘luxury living’ can be difficult concepts to reconcile.
Then earlier this year the main contractor, AAAble Builders Yes We Can Ltd, went into administration by accident, thinking it was a commercial subdivision of the university sector, and remains trapped at the top of the Yellow Pages. Still, we got there in the end. Here’s what the press release says:
‘The Lump is pure dynamic form, a dream world, shimmering like a futuristic metatrope over its gutsy surroundings. The exterior features millions of tiny, magical fragments of surprised astatine, glistening in a fantastic cloak of synthetic biomass. This then gives way to a wholly unexpected interior of 388 flats, a 66-bedroom hotel, offices for the regional department of the Fraudulent Disability Investigations Agency, a car park and 9 floors of shops.’
Thursday. Toying with the idea of pop-up urbanism. Only because I want to print leaflets promising ‘express piazza delivery’.
Friday. Finish sketches for my Tamworth Museum of Bad Language. I’m hoping it will be a premier destination for the visually impaired, as there will be textured surfaces all over the place, much of the interactivity will be based on Spoken Swearing and the whole thing will probably be shit to look at anyway after the client’s taken all the good bits out.
There will be strong language from the start i.e. in the reception area, then visitors will be taken on a journey through the history and culture of swearing. Though, as I say, the culture bit may have to go as part of Coalition Cutbacks. Of course there will be critics who say that Tamworth doesn’t need a Museum of Bad Language at all, that the redundant watershed should be converted into something more appropriate. Already there is a strong local campaign in the local press to get Jamie Oliver to turn it into a ‘sustainable Italian’ restaurant using only seasonal staff and locally-sourced customers.
In my view Museum deniers should beware of what they wish for. If people start rolling their eyes and groaning every time a new museum opens in a British town, it won’t be long before architects work exclusively abroad, where they are treated with respect and admiration. The creation of new museums is now a globalised industry second only to war in its importance to the world economy.
Yes, we may have reservations about the gearing of the sector – by 2050 it is estimated there will be one museum for every 25 people on the planet – but make no mistake. Without museums, architectural civilisation as we know it would collapse and in no time we’d be hurled back into the Dark Ages. We have moved on from county architects’ departments and their obsession with schools and homes – building types that do not typically accommodate gift shops and ‘light bite’ restaurants.
Saturday. Five-a-zeitgeist puff football. ‘Art theory propositions of polemic form-givers’ 0, ‘The virtualisation of extra-terrestrial desire’ 0. Match abandoned after ugly scenes of pretension.
Sunday. Breakfast in pop-up café, drinks in pop-up pub, afternoon in fold-out recliner.