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Getting on the right side of the North-South Theoretical Divide

Ian Martin heads to Cumbria

MONDAY. Off to Cumbria this week. My old friend Darcy the architecture critic is undergoing his most thorough image overhaul since that time he gave a lecture at the Royal Academy - ‘Post-Modernism Is The New Skiffle’ - dressed as a pirate.

Darcy’s renting a farmhouse on a bleak fell near Shap, trying to thrash out the next big new architectural theory, desperate to regain his pre-eminence in the highly competitive field of epic space. He has forsaken the metrosexual tension of London for a simplified rural life.

The capital holds too many unhappy memories for him. Bauhau the dachshund for instance. Once Darcy’s constant companion, Bauhau now lives with his agent, the powerful canine impresaria Victoria Spong, in a converted East Putney mews cottage.

She’s holding auditions this week for a new human escort. ‘Occasional original thinking required, though specifically seeking a resonant fashion sense (matchy matchy) and a willingness to express opinions in accordance with The Bauhau Brand, putting metarchitecture at the heart of public debate.’

TUESDAY. Packing for Cumbria. Thinking about Spong and Bauhau and metarchitecture, the Emperor’s New Clothes of aesthetics.

Imagine yourself in a room with a ladder. Go up the ladder. The room looks ‘better’ because you’re looking at it ‘metarchitecturally’.

OK, now imagine a client has asked you to masterplan a private university campus somewhere expensive on the south coast. You can stroll around the proposed site - let’s say it’s public parkland at the moment, or an area of surplus natural beauty - to get a ‘feel’ for it. The psychogeography of the place. The ghosts and the dreamlines and whatnot. You can think ‘oh, this place could really generate creativity’. Or ‘if we dumped a high-density doughnut of PFI student housing here and put a pub, kebab takeaway, pizza takeaway, Indian takeaway, a non-threatening nightclub and a cash machine
in the middle, we’d be laughing’.

But that’s the non-metarchitectural approach. This proposed campus. What does it look like from the sling of a microlight? What does it look like as a Flickr slideshow? What does it look like as binary code, printed out and scribbled over in coloured crayons by schoolchildren? Today’s artist must find a hidden pattern, allude to it in abstract terms, and THEN maximise profit. It’s not the interconnectivity of space and form that matters. It’s calling it metarchitecture. Ridiculous. This orthodoxy must be smashed. But by WHAT?

WEDNESDAY. Darcy picks me up from the station in a muddy tractor, togged up like a gentleman farmer. His new muse, Bess of Hardwick the border collie, is cheerful and alert in her tweed coat and round-framed tortoiseshell spectacles. We have no time to lose. He and Bess are booked to go on Newsnight next week to argue against metarchitecture. They’ll be facing their nemeses: Bauhau and Spong. ‘Aye. Sounds like one o’ them fancy kitchens, eh, girl? Oh aye, ee, buggeration…’ Oh my God. Darcy’s gone Northern.

THURSDAY. Our quest for a new architectural theory begins, in a windswept field. Horizontal sleet. Sky like a low pewter ceiling. Our minds are blank. ‘Fetch, girl! Come by! Get on! Fetch us a theory, girl! Shit, this suit is RUINED! I mean, come on girl!’ He attempts a shepherd’s whistle but just makes a noise like a punctured water pipe.

Bess dutifully scampers off round the field looking for something to worry, but her glasses are all steamed up and rain-spattered. She crashes into a hedge. Darcy and I decide she’s more of an indoor muse.

FRIDAY. On a hunch, we settle Bess on the sofa and Google some contemporary architecture. Interesting. She barks at some, but not at others.

‘What’s that, Bess? Tha don’t know owt abaht art’te’ture but tha knows thee preferences?’ I tell Darcy to dial down the wide-spectrum accent, and concentrate. Is Bess responding to buildings that just… ‘look nice’?

SATURDAY. Astonishing. By breakfast, Darcy’s mapped out something called Looks Nice Theory.

‘Basically, you dump all that bourgeois drivel. Sever all ties with an elitist commentariat. Align yourself with the ITV and Nando’s crowd…’ He suppresses a shudder, remembering the new him. ‘Aye, if it Looks Nice, that’ll do, eh? Eh, Bess?’
She gives a little bark and looks clever.

SUNDAY. Back home in the recliner. Darcy and Bess and Looks Nice Theory will BURY metarchitecture. Ha ha, bye bye Bauhau…

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