Reclaiming our public conveniences from the Hipster Terror
Ian Martin contemplates the dawning of the Age of Oxygen
Monday. I find myself getting nostalgic for the Carbon Footprint. It reminds me of a happier, more innocent age.
These days it is vulgar to mention footprints, or carbon, but I miss the enthusiasm of that time, and the money. Amazing to think now that I was poised to make a fortune from my Carbon Slipper, a sort of loose overthrow for buildings that rendered them harmless.
Of course, green architecture may yet stage a comeback – perhaps in time for the Olympics next year – but I think carbon’s had it as an architectural talking point. Who knows which element will next be fashionable? Some futurists are talking boron up, but I think we’re entering the Age of Oxygen. ‘What’s the oxygen take?’ we’ll be sneering in 10 years time, about a building we don’t like very much.
Tuesday. I’m designing an 80-storey residential tower in the new Emotional Digital style. Basically you just do it in the old style, then set the exterior finish software parameters to ‘ruffled’. This gives everything a more handmade look, as if hundreds of pipe-smoking artisans had bashed each unique steel panel into shape on an anvil, then hauled them all the way to the financial district of New York on a convoy of Edwardian drays.
Still. Now I’ve finished the sketches it looks pretty optimistic, I must say. A bit like an arts and crafts Apollo-era space rocket and gantry. I’ve got these organic rivulets running down the outside, symbolising the sort of organic rivulets you find in Nature.
On a whim I reset the rivulet direction of travel so they’re now going UP. In your face, Nature, you haven’t got a clue about Emotional Digitalism, mankind wins again.
Wednesday. My old friend Dusty Penhaligon the conservactionist has started a campaign group to restore Victorian public conveniences. He’s calling it – unwisely, in my opinion – The Bog Society.
Its aims are forthright and hostile: to compel local councils to produce maps of all public toilets ‘as at Jan 1895. Said conveniences then to be restored, scrupulously recreated or, if necessary, fully reversed…’ The last bossy injunction is pretty controversial. It requires the reimbursement and eviction of some chic, kooky and potentially quite outraged current occupants. A number of conveniences have in recent years fallen into re-use as:
• A community art gallery, challenging our perceptions of how poor community art actually is.
• A poetry slamming hub run by PFI verse provider Metrical Logistics.
• Minimalistic business premises for a doomed one-and-a-half-person architectural start-up called Urbanic Daydream in a weird font.
• A brilliantly innovative pied-à-sous-terre for guerrilla media consultant Dex Madmen, who told the Sunday Telegraph last May that going home to his underground crashpad near Liverpool Street (designed via email by someone in his year at Westminster) was ‘like following the White Rabbit into a fabulous hedonistic underworld’ but who is now tired of emerging in the morning to the sound of commercial despair and the smell of human piss.
• An ironic and technically illegal opium den run by gap year chancers pretending to be doing voluntary work in Vietnam.
• A stag night venue called Gents.
I think Dusty’s idea of a public convenience renaissance is charming but misguided. Not for the first time I ask him – where does it stop? Are we supposed to return all Victorian hospital buildings to their original state? What about the staff? Are they supposed to revert to primitive anaesthetics and pleats in their clothes? As usual he shrugs, says yes, takes a drag on his roll-up and squints into the distance.
Thursday. Rock Steady Eddie the Middle East fixer rings. An ideas competition is about to be announced by Saudi Arabia’s royal family, who have been watching events in Egypt and elsewhere unfold with some interest. The brief is to ‘refresh’ the kingdom as the wider region enters a period of profound change and modernisation. Eddie recommends removing all large public squares, women and Twitter.
Friday. To a lecture at the RIPBA: Whither Architecture? Summary: not entirely sure, but here are some cracking images.
Saturday. A fascinating tour of abandoned London Underground stations. Afterwards we all go for a drink in an abandoned pub, my imaginary friends and I, like the melancholy bastards we are.
Sunday. Reconfigure self for the new Emotional Digital age, in the recliner, by watching Casablanca in 3-D.