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Architecture’s big collective sigh

Ian Martin brainstorms a new collective noun for architects

MONDAY Writing day. I’m banging out an opportunistic pop-up book satirising the cheap cynicism of globalised architecture. The working title is Shonk Of The New.

I will be making sweeping yet baffling statements such as ‘architecture has gone from petrified music to pasteurised rom-com in the space of three generations’. And ‘architecture’s just low-level toneplay now, a sort of background hum’. And ‘the poor old profession of ARCHITECTURE is culturally unfit for purpose; it should be humanely put down and replaced with the cult of EXTERIOR FLUFFING’.

As long as the book’s in the middle of the polemical spectrum and has a punkish cover, the publisher’s happy. I will be taking the reader on an emotional rollercoaster ride of course, that’s basic. But at the very top of the ride is pessimism. That’s as good as it gets. The steep mood plunge in Chapters 5, 9 and 11 is terrifying.

Today I’m concentrating on historical footnotes, such as civic design and hope for a better future. Oh God, nostalgia’s worse than pessimism. Decide to snap out of it by bullying one of my progressive architect friends into a boozy night out, then remember they’re all dead.

A quiet evening in. Space Age dinner for one, in pill form. A BBC4 documentary on the curdled promise of the 1960s. Armagnac and melatonin cocktails.

TUESDAY Brand new day. Energised and positive. Apologise to self for yesterday’s corrosive negativity.
Dismiss last night’s Google search results for ‘euthanasia’. Check emails.

Molly Bismuth, president of the Royal Institute for the Pop-Uption of British Architects, wants me to help brainstorm a new collective noun. So don’t tell me the plasmic arts of epic space are finished JUST yet.

WEDNESDAY To the RIPBA for afternoon tea and thought-jamming. Molly and I are joined by the institute’s new head of trending, Rose What. They wear matching RIPBA branded clothing with the new mission statement - ‘Dare to dream, strive to wonder’ - running down their trouser legs.

A crisis has been triggered by the latest Dictionary of Collective Nouns. Once again, while the world moves on around them, architects are stranded in the past.

Other human groups have found new identities, for example ‘a gangling of hoodies’, ‘a coalition of wankers’. Yet ‘a sulk of architects’ is still the default phrase for sculptors of the built environment.

‘We live in a world of hyperplurality’ Rose says confidently, through a mouthful of cake. ‘And we need to repluralise the brand as a matter of urgency’.

She suggests ‘a bombast of architects’. I see her point. The architectural community is a powerful one, on paper. Unfortunately it isn’t strictly speaking a community as everyone’s in competition with one another. We eat cake and stare silently at the carpet.

After a while we simply resort to saying the first collective noun for architects that randomly occurs. A ‘compliance’? A ‘monetisation’? A ‘babel’? An ‘urbanism’? A ‘colonnade’? A ‘trousering’? A ‘misunderstanding’? A ‘cockbin’? That last one was mine. I apologise to Molly and Rose, my mind was wandering a bit.

I make up for it by suggesting ‘edification’. Two definitions for the price of one. It’s value-added. Architects ‘build up’ AND they try with great patience to teach people how to be better. Plus edification has five syllables, which makes architects seem important and clever.

THURSDAY Right on time (it happens exactly every five years) a think tank has called for ‘outdated, ugly and dangerous’ tower blocks to be demolished. As usual, they want terraced streets instead.

I have a better idea. ‘Think tanks’ have been around since the Cold War. They are outdated, dangerous and ugly. They should be dismantled as soon as possible and replaced with something people actually want to think in.

FRIDAY Oh dear. A very disgruntled Molly calls to say ‘edification’ has been rejected by the Dictionary of Collective Nouns. Apparently it’s ‘self-aggrandising’. Architects will remain, collectively, a ‘sulk’.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist facade football. Melty Lattice Narrative 3, Shimmering Blister 0. Start delayed due to pitch exasperation.

SUNDAY A day of morbid contemplation in the recliner, working on the last chapter of Shonk Of The New. Find myself thinking that at least architects can console themselves knowing that a future dystopia won’t be their fault, for a change. Then find myself thinking sod it, and go to the pub.

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