Molly Bismuth and the funking-up of British architecture
Ian Martin judges the Shit Building Of The Year Award
MONDAY. Sketch out plans to turn a famous London teaching hospital into 3,000 flats full of people listening to Radio 6 and doing something clever with seasonal vegetables.
My conscience is clear. I didn’t come up with the bloody idea, did I? Anyway, they’ve asked a number of architects to have a go. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with selling an NHS site to a property developer. Is there?
Gradually, my conscience starts to speckle with particulates of doubtful origin. I put the wipers on, give it a spritz, and soon my conscience is clear again.
TUESDAY. Create a breathtaking glazed ‘Groundwalk’ by designing a circular corridor with lots of windows.
Now to give them something to look at. At the moment it’s a toss-up between radical landscaping or kinetic art. Maybe both. It has to be an experience. Perhaps the Groundwalk could wobble slightly, adding to the tension.
Bah. By teatime I’ve scribbled out all the experience-heightening ‘surprise factors’ on the advice of my lawyers: jets of fire, slippery floor, wild animals. It’s spatial narrative correctness gone mad.
WEDNESDAY. To the RIPBA to meet new president Molly Bismuth. She’s in her trademark pink cowboy hat and brimming with energy today as ‘Aries is aligned with Ocado’.
We check out work in progress at the former Florence Hall, which is being converted into a massive, ironic bar called Epic. It’s part of Molly’s masterplan to update the institute. This basically involves redefining ‘makeover’ as a transitive verb, then applying it to the RIPBA. There will be happy hours and music videos. The bar staff will be heavily tattooed, with hairdos that look like urban gardens.
‘I want everything to be more pop-up and FUNK-AY!’ she trills. Things are certainly moving quickly. The RIPBA’s chief executive Geoff Mudgeon is cultivating an afro. During Molly’s inaugural speech there’ll be a dude on fretless bass at the end of every paragraph.
She wants to fill the trendier bits of London with ‘branded microsites’: little taster menus of world class architecture presented by people in hats. All milling about in signature pop-up yurts with old horror movies showing, poetry slams and downloadable apps. There are, she reasons, an awful lot of young people out there. After 177 years, it’s time the institute was ‘youthanised’. We have another vodka jelly.
‘It’s about cultural synergy. Architects, especially hot young ones, spend a lot of time designing hubs during the day – then go out hubbing in the evenings! We need to totally mash that scene up with stuff that people read about in magazines. Imagine Alex James out of Blur. And his cheese. And a punk string quartet. And loads of prosecco. And some architecture in the middle. Wicked!’
Hipstertecture? ‘No no no, that’s too much…’ A vodka jelly disappears. ‘…of a mouthful. My mission is to bring together cool people and architects. I’m merging hipster culture and hub culture to form a totally fresh genre of HUBSTER CULTURE!’
Suddenly the bass dude appears: boing burr ba-ba bop bop!
THURSDAY. Honoured to be one of the judges for the Shit Building Of The Year Award, but it’s exhausting work.
Shit buildings are once again enormously popular and this year there are more nominations than ever. The standard is incredible. In the end we decide to give the prize to the whole of Salford. Liverpool waterfront gets a ‘highly distended’ award.
FRIDAY. Redesign concept of ‘redesign’, making it less enigmatic by removing quote marks.
SATURDAY. Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Neo-Narcissism 5, Post-Collectivist Nebulism 0.
SUNDAY. Like so many others, I relive the horrors of 9/11 by watching it on the television, as we did at the time.
Architects have had a neurotic decade. But they can feel proud that terror has finally been conquered. We all ‘feared’ that 9/11 would mean no more tall buildings. Look at us now. Extruded vertical luxury in every city!
As St Paul’s stood firm amid the burning rubble of the Blitz, so London’s giant stalagmite of wealth, The Icicle, now rises into the optioned air like an overscaled gesture of defiance to everything but itself. Yes, you al-Qaeda muppets. This is what secular democracy looks like. This is what freedom looks like. A giant drip.
Then I go to the pub. Later, some sober reflections in the recliner.