Q: What would Vitruvius do? A: Work out the Latin for ‘social capital’
Ian Martin suggests a New Vitruvian mantra of ‘social capital, local distinctiveness and properly insured’
Monday. Following my successful conversion of a Victorian pharmacy into a Museum of Lesbianism, I’m now a ‘name’ in the world of LGBT design and about to turn a 13-storey tower into the world’s first ‘out’ office block. It won’t be cheap. It has to be reclad to be gay.
Tuesday. I’m at the Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects to ‘facilitate a reconciliation’. Not something to be attempted after a long lunch, so the meeting’s strictly coffee served with charming little architectural pastries in the shape of Brutalist Masterpieces. Great to look at, easy to demolish. The croissant version of Robin Hood Gardens is extremely flakey.
Our meeting is Category 4: ‘off-grid exploratory chat’. A three-wayer. Me. Fanny Mudgeon, the institute’s new Vice-President of Purpose. And Tex Dorkowicz, chief executive at the Prince of Wales Standing Colloquium on Common Sense. Our mission is to end the bitter, decades-long feud between Charles and the Gatekeepers of Epic Space.
The latest row’s over a plan by Tex to fill a dangerous quango hole that’s suddenly appeared in Britain’s road to recovery. He wants to set up a new aesthetic control Star Chamber. Architects found guilty of wilfully designing ‘hedonistical mischief which doth laugh in the face of God’ would be liable to a severe public dunking. Obviously the RIPBA is opposing this on human rights grounds.
Yet the monarchy and the institute have much in common. Both are ancient, and share a haughty sense of entitlement. They’re innately conservative. Their mission is merely to survive as beacons of patrician certainty in the Age of Twitter. I may have found a point of departure. Both institutes revere Vitruvius.
Little is known about Vitruvius, although he was Italian and therefore stylish. He was a civil servant: ‘trustworthy’. And he was around at the same time as Jesus, so certainly a non-smoker.
Vitruvius famously asserted that buildings must have firmitas, utilitas, venustas. As nobody except the Mayor of London speaks Latin any more, I propose we find a mutually acceptable modern translation. ‘Commodity, firmness and delight’ is preposterously renaissance. I’m suggesting a New Vitruvian mantra of ‘social capital, local distinctiveness and properly insured’.
I think we’re making real headway, and there are still some pastries left.
Wednesday. Furious row with client. Tell him architecture is a creative journey and that you can’t simply order it by the yard.
Thursday. Ring Rock Steady Eddie, the fixer. Ask him to make discreet enquiries about any latent customer demand for architecture by the yard.
Friday. Lunch with my old friend Scottish Henry, whose stock these days is not rising so much as steepling.
Ten years ago he was president of the National Union of Student Architects, with an accumulated debt that hit his parents hard. Five years ago he had a fuck-off haircut like a charcoal drawing by Zaha Hadid and was CEO of Gritty Urban Solutions, making a name for himself as a ‘maverick’ developer, where ‘maverick’ means politically connected.
Two years ago he gave a landmark speech to the World Chamber of Commerce in Dubai about the duty of architecture to ‘monetise value’. A year ago he was Lib Dem MP for a quarter of Northumberland. Two months ago he was the junior minister for bins.
Now he’s the coalition’s Big Society Czar.
I’m meeting Scottish Henry in my capacity as animateur for the Tamworth League. Our Plan A is to make Tamworth the English capital city again, as it was in the 8th century. Inspired by the coalition, we also have Plan B. The reanimated kingdom of Mercia has struck an alliance with Wessex and Northumbria to create a Corridor of Certainty running the length of the country.
Scottish Henry loves this. It’s people determining their own destiny, and the saving on benefits alone would be substantial. It chimes nicely with the government’s own plan to breed a master race within an Israeli-style ‘freedom wall’ around the M25.
We give each other a secret 8th-century fistbump and check diaries.
Saturday. The world’s leading architects are now busy articulating the Mercian Corridor with enigmatic doodlings. We’re loving Alsop’s M6 Toll Ramblas.
Sunday. Low energy. Eco-friendly. I sometimes think the recliner is the ultimate gift from Us to Earth. All afternoon I am beyond ‘treading lightly’. I am ‘harmlessly suspended’.