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Ian Martin is shocked and appalled

Scheme-fixing: the shame of a profession throwing projects for cash

Monday. Back from the Venice Biennale Fringe. The quality of stand-up comic architecture is, as ever, astonishing.

This year’s Spritzer Prize was won by ‘guerrilla reconstructivist’ Tanzo Koyabashi for his pecha-kucha presentation on the transient nature of trapped air. He also won the award for Best One-Liner: ‘I wouldn’t say my mother-in-law is a rich philistine – she’s my only paying client so far!’

Members of the audience, crammed into big reconstructivist cardboard cylinders being turned round by sneery interns, were literally rolling in the aisles.

Tuesday. I was as shocked as anyone to see Rock Steady Eddie the fixer caught on film by a Sunday broadsheet.

I felt sadness. And anger. Project fixing in South Asia? It’s scarcely believable that major players in the architecture game could tarnish the profession like this. For too long we believed that British architects were impervious to the blandishments of dodgy businessmen, with their cartoon moustaches and shadowy cartels. We cherish the notion that architecture is a noble pursuit. At the highest level the narrative of contemporary design is a drawn-out, quirky, nuanced affair. Full of tension. Subject to sudden, catastrophic, reversals of fortune.

Alas. We live in the crass, pimply 21st century. Consortia, or ‘fancy syndicates’ as they’re known, make fortunes by staking money on the outcome of a major project. Until recently huge sums were wagered on whether a landmark scheme would go ahead. But then the forces of planning law shut all that down by rigorously questioning themselves. So criminals turned to ‘spot fixing’.

Taking bets on individual elements of a project opened up new opportunities for cheating. By how many weeks will this 28-storey world music-themed boutique hotel overrun? Precisely how many times will ‘innovative’ appear in a press release announcing The World’s Largest Infinity Pool? Exactly how many uninsured, racially abused, homesick construction workers will die constructing this farcical courgette-shaped fucking skyscraper bullshit before Rod Stewart choppers in for the topping-out ceremony?

Respect to the Creative on Sunday for their journalistic coup. They spent weeks winning Rock Steady Eddie’s trust, buying him expensive curries and putting him up in luxury accommodation with no expense spared. Unlocked porn channels, use of the minibar: the works. Watching a pissed Eddie brag on video about his underworld contacts, counting piles of tenners, was heartbreaking. There he is, apparently predicting exactly what’s going to happen during the design and construction of an ‘iconic landmark’ created by Radon + Daughters, the controversial ‘fast practice’ who have in the past been linked with scheme-fixing in Islamabad.

We all know that the International Code of Ethics requires all architects to include ‘no balls’ in the design. Obviously, ‘balls’ sometimes occurs by accident. For example, a headstrong young designer might overstep the mark in a rush for outline planning and turn the facade into an embarrassingly clumsy interplay of contextual geometries. These things happen. But here’s Eddie, on film, saying ‘I’m telling you, there will be balls in the ground floor reception area, balls on the third storey and further balls on the roof, is there any more of that champagne left?
I’m spitting feathers.’

Sure enough, working drawings revealed: a ‘living wall of Smart Microbes suspended in chlorophyll and live-streamed to YouTube’ in reception; a third-floor ‘thinking space’ with anti-gravity soft furnishings; and facsimile Dutch Windmill rooftop turbines, plus a
£5 million ‘urban mosaic’ of human teeth, grouted with powdered silver and nanoplasma.

Wednesday. Oh God. More incriminating film of Eddie a) boasting that he can get the Prince of Wales to ‘throw’ the monarchy and b) burping the alphabet.

Thursday. I’ve been asked by the Coalition to design a New Ladybird vision of ‘public space as visitor experience’. A pilot scheme will be launched in the North East, where there’s now plenty of scope for anything.

Our ‘archived town centre’ will bring together: a public library, a post office, an NHS dentist, a dinky little civic centre, a Sure Start, an Anglican church anda market ‘thronged by people in local costumes’. The visitor car park will be free at the point of delivery.

Friday. Redesign Afghanistan. More feminist theory and blocky concrete. Fewer cluttery road signs.

Saturday. Make a late bid for the Labour leadership by ignoring the past and calling for affordable homes.

Sunday. In the recliner, as predicted.

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