Rerationalisation and memeweaving: The challenges for post-smoking Britain
Ian Martin negotiates a period of moral fluidity
MONDAY. Design a contemporary ant farm. Tunnels underneath, a miniature Tyneside above. It’s a porous society, but minimalist. All the ants are in it together, no decs.
TUESDAY. In the morning, work on my Rerationalisation of the Public Sector. I’m thinking about library buildings for the coalition. To whit, their creative re-use. Volunteer police headquarters? NHS provider pop-ups? Maybe they could be commercially franchised ‘one-stop literacy shops’ overmantled with iconic pointless transparent balls and rebadged Kindle Eggs…
In the afternoon, present some ideas to the Save Our Libraries campaign. I’m helping to defend these bastions of civilised space against the predatory forces of darkness. One of my suggestions is to pair libraries with local architectural practices. Earnest young designers would lead teams of volunteers in framing brilliant development plans.
Some will accuse me of using architecture cynically to exploit both sides of the ideological debate. All I can say is that this is a period of moral fluidity. It’s precisely why architecture is known as a plastic art.
WEDNESDAY. An urgent fax from the Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects. Would I be interested in a day’s temping?
I don’t normally do this sort of thing but it’s a favour for my old mate MC Achilles. We go way back, to a time when architecture was as cool as a jazz trumpeter’s post-mortem. And Canary Wharf had decent buildings.
Of course he’s just plain ‘Achilles’ these days, butwhat a cultural meteor he was then. Partner in an Epsom small practice (Radon & Daughters) which was subsequently bought out by a US corporate design multinational. AND he fronted a nihilist punk band called The Scratchouts at the weekend. Then came bankruptcy and a short spell in prison.
These days Achilles is suffering from nervous exhaustion or paternity or both, I can’t remember. Deputy Director of Memeweaving is a high-pressure job. Day after day broadcasting little seeds of corporate thought across the internet, hoping they germinate. The Institute is battling, if not for its life, then at least for its brand. It’s vital to keep the RIPBA near the top of Google searches.
My task today is to collate the latest intelligence from the membership and then turn that raw material into thought-streams of viral marketing. According to the executive summary, architects value the RIPBA for:
1. The prestige initials.
3. The list is endless.
I plant the meme ‘prestige initials drive brand recognition’ in all the architectural forums and key portals. Hey presto: by mid-afternoon the RIPBA’s moved up the search results for ‘prestige initials’. A bit. It’s still several places behind all the personalised number plate websites.
THURSDAY. Lunch with Rock Steady Eddie, my Middle East fixer. I say lunch, it’s egg and chips in a plucky little transport café in east London, The Union Jack, still soldiering on in a desert of optioned ‘urban space’.
While Eddie scrolls and splutters through his email – disturbingly, every correspondent is a ‘wankshaft’ or an ‘arselump’ – I gaze mournfully around me. People talking to each other in sentences of 140 characters maximum, and checking their phones. Ah, it’s not the same as the old days. No smoking. Smoking is the ghost at the feast.
I bet this is how the Enlightenmentalists felt, going into a cathedral. Generations of ‘something’ billowing inside it, slathering the walls, kippering it. Then poof, it’s over. All that’s left is a shellacked hull, a dim folk memory. My generation’s ‘madeleine’: burnt fat and cigarette smoke… ‘Wake up, Meryl Fucking Streep! I’ve just landed us a very tasty new Parliament Building Complex! You have a little scribble, I’m nipping out for a fag…
FRIDAY. This Middle East brief is tough. For a start, Eddie’s not allowed to tell me who the client is. It’s a secret, as the people living in the parliament building’s catchment area haven’t been informed that they’re getting a new parliament yet.
I decide to keep it generic. A massive dome that looks like B&Q’s poshest lampshade. Islamic patterns casting Islamic shadows over Islamic marble. A meeting area for ladies at the back. Tradition, modernity, boom shakalaka, fingers crossed for democratic change.
SATURDAY. Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Tragic iPodulism 3, Architecture As Kettling 1.
SUNDAY. Darcy Farquear’say on good form in the Creative on Sunday. He describes a sentimental, ethereal monument as ‘Dianaphonous’.