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The BBC signs off, Mercia rebuilds, architecture goes pop

Ian Martin discovers that architecture, like pop music, ran out of fresh ideas in about 1998

Monday. Tweaking my masterplan for BBC Television Centre. It was submitted long before the Coalition started slashing and burning, and is out of date. These days the Corporation must be publicly humiliated.

I had proposed turning the central, listed ‘doughnut’ into a Doctor Who Wormhole With Gift Shop. Redeveloping the rest of the rambling site as an exciting mix of chain retail, formulaic office space and bijou apartments for dickheads in pork pie hats. Alas, Doctor Who is to be privatised along with the Royal Mail and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

After a few hours heavy thinking in the pub, all I’ve got is a big question mark on an envelope. That’s useless frankly, so it’s back to the drawing board.

Tuesday. Cracked it. Something that will appeal to friends AND enemies of the BBC.

Turn it into a 1960s museum, a celebration of some mythical Golden Age of Excellence when the BBC flattered its viewers. Pro-Corporationists will see it as part of a public broadcasting continuum, anti-Corporationists will see it as a memorial.

Yes. I draw a large tick on the back of an envelope. Wait. That looks like a perfect shape for the ‘business campus’ the museum will nestle in…

Wednesday. Exciting news from the world of extreme conservation. After decades of bad-tempered squabbling, the 8th Century Society and the Tamworth League are reconciled.

Both have long championed Anglo-Saxonism. But there was an ideological falling-out in the 1970s over ‘realistic targets’ for the restoration of Ancient Mercia. The 8th Century Society (launched in the early ninth century on a wave of nostalgia) merely sought academic validation, and a few brown signs guiding motorists to sites of theoretical interest.

The Tamworth League on the other hand has consistently campaigned for England’s original capital city to be given back its administrative powers. It also demands reparations from London, which villainously snatched capital status in the 11th century. With interest, London owes Tamworth roughly sixteen thousand trillion pounds. It certainly puts the government’s ‘deficit reduction’ into historical perspective.

There’s a meeting soon to discuss a joint position on armed resistance. Some of us feel NATO ought to get involved.

Thursday. Plan to regenerate Glasgow’s riverside media and culture quarter: a really massive state-subsidised shipyard.

Friday. Lunch with my old friend Alan Flange, the pop record producer. Man, he’s come a long way. ‘Pop record producer’ was what he was called back in the post-punk days. It’s a measure of his enduring success that he still has the job description, even though every element of it is now ironic. I ask him enviously how he’s managed to stay on top of his game for so long.

Alan chuckles, grimly. ‘You’ve got to know the limits of your imagination, and everyone else’s…’ Then his face freezes. It takes me a minute to remember Alan’s Class A drugs legacy. I lean forward and tap him firmly on the forehead, unpausing him. ‘Architecture, music, same shit right? Popular music ran out of fresh ideas in about 1998. I imagine it’s the same with architecture. Musicians put nu- in front of any rehashed bollocks; architects are posher and use neo-.’

Lunch goes on for hours, partly because I keep forgetting to unfreeze him. His  thesis – that there are now only VERSIONS of original thought, everything’s just remixed or redesigned – is horribly cynical, which makes it hugely appealing. Hm. ‘Pop building producer’…

I wait until his face seizes up then slip away, leaving him to reflect on a lifetime of hits. And eventually to settle the bill.

Saturday. Spend the day producing popitecture. As you might expect, this is mostly a labelling job.

For instance, a boring high street shop refurb sounds much more exciting if you pronounce it ‘reverb’. And the dull elevation looks more life-affirming if you create a dance mix’ for the pavement and the generic pedestrians on it.

I bet planners would be more tolerant about replacing Victorian windows with cheap modern glazing if it was described as a ‘mashup’. You could abandon aesthetic control, allow the high street to become an anarchic clash of styles and scale and finish and simply call it a ‘compilation’. Now that’s what I call popitecture!

Sunday. Popitecture brainwork in the recliner. Then it occurs: this ‘everything’s a redesign’ idea. It’s been done, hasn’t it?

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