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If it ain’t quaint, don’t fix it

Ian Martin digests a new listed buildings policy, titled ‘Quaintity Street’.

MONDAY Urgent call from Number 10. Could I solve the acute housing shortage ‘at a stroke, asap’?

TUESDAY Have suggested Number 10 recalibrates local authority ‘delivery targets’. I really don’t know what all the panic was about.

WEDNESDAY Lunch with the Hon. Gavin Quinly-Spread. Since he took over at the department of entertainment as minister for architecture, bed and breakfast hotels, Twitter avatars and humane circuses, he’s been relatively quiet. Not any more. ‘Gonna tear architecture a new one, dude. Enough’s enough. Peeps don’t wanna be looking at rubbish all day. Believe me, I spend a lot of time gazing out of the window of my ministerial car and I can tell you there’s some really mediocre built environment blocking the view. Well, there’s a new architecture marshall in town and he’s gunning for mundanity. Yeah, Marshall GQ‑Spread…’

There’s a tug on his sleeve. ‘Plus, obvs, my deputy, best mate and bloody good bloke Johnny’. Incredible. I don’t think anyone knows Johnny’s surname, yet he’s always at GQ’s side. A year above him at Eton, former business partner and now - in line with the government’s masterplan to privatise the state - Johnny’s in charge of listed buildings policy.

I don’t entirely trust Johnny, especially in restaurants. He has a cruel, restless gaze that suggests he might finish lunch with a second armagnac, a large expresso, a wide-spectrum smashing of stuff and a shower of tenners.

As the fourth bottle of claret arrives, I ask him if his new listing regime will acknowledge the historic importance of Brutalism to our public estate. Brutalism has certainly been conspicuous by its absence recently, particularly the bits that have been physically destroyed.

Johnny nods, sagely. ‘Totes. New era. Not about the quantity of our listed buildings any more. Or the quality. GQ?’

The minister for architecture pulls a crumpled department of entertainment leaflet from his pocket. It’s announcing the new listed buildings policy and is titled ‘Quaintity Street’.

‘Yah, it’s quaintity we’re after now, right bro?’ Johnny does affirmative gunfingers and makes a ‘chk’ noise. I read the leaflet. From now on, all buildings nominated for listing will be assessed for their ‘power to evoke sentimental affection for a bygone era regardless of merit or current use, eg watermills, manses, cottage hospitals, telephone boxes, workhouses, tobacconists, stately homes, Methodist churches, public conveniences, libraries, Saxon ruins, Woolworths etc.’

It’s quite a lot to digest at lunchtime. And ‘quaintity’ itself is a very chewy concept. Also, Johnny’s getting a bit drunk and accusing GQ of wanting to ‘bum the waiter’. I leave before it starts going Bullingdon.

THURSDAY Wake up feeling nauseous. At first I’m not sure why, then I remember Quaintity Street.

If Johnny’s now prepared to list Brutalist buildings, it must mean that the very notion of collective architecture - buildings representing ‘us’ - is now safely anachronistic. Brutalism has officially transitioned to quaint. The civic values that inspired it have disappeared into a cultural black hole, along with Play For Today and Merseybeat.

Brutalism, the built affirmation of an egalitarian national project, is in period dress. Oh God, how many more sequels of The Victorian Farm before they get to Broadwater?

FRIDAY The department of entertainment (specifically, the ministry of Johnny) has released the latest clutch of buildings up for listing:

  • The Philip Larkin Library of Porn at Hull University. Designed by Amis and Amis in New Onanist style, with degraded cubicular spaces and a repetitive finish of shuttered remorse.
  • Morecambe Town Hall, with its distinctive pre-spalled concrete slab design by surly in-house salaried architects. The building still has original plastic signage in psychedelic bubble letters above the separate staff entrances for ‘Birds’ and ‘Cats’. A small transparent ‘no smoking’ shelter survives. Common at the time in humane public sector environments, this refuge is now unique, and used today by smokers.
  • Basildon’s concrete Plaza of Tomorrow (Buzzard and Haw-Haw, 1962) was famously ‘left blank for the future’. Although completely built over now, the iconic emptiness will be geo-physically mapped and electronically listed.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Deregulated Legacism 0, Demoralised Posturism 0. Match abandoned after Twitterstorm.

SUNDAY Recliner. Mulling ideas for my Margaret Thatcher memorial design. Nod off. Have complicated dream about Yorkshire being smashed to bits by a giant handbag. Decide to play safe with an enclosed Iron Lady garden of remembrance, not open to society.

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