From Clissold closure to 'gherkin' victory in some not so easy steps
January One of the burning issues at the start of last year was scholastic: was the City Academy project going to be unmasked as a plot to delete staff rooms from the 40 new schools? Answer: no, it was a silly misunderstanding based on the more business-like architects renaming them 'staff development centres'. Oh yes, and the Clissold Leisure Centre closure had just begun, and continues to this day.
February OMA published a picture of a pump house that looked as though it fell off the back of a lorry (literally), but really it had something to do with more flood prevention shocks from insurers. I responded with a reasoned critique of the value of old computers as opposed to old buildings as carriers of information.
March The interest in the revival of prefabrication for South East housing took a body blow when the Barker Report emerged as a taxation project instead. Conversely, compulsory inclusion of 'design principles and concepts' in the Planning Reform Bill showed the profession in its worst, protectionist light. This implement will soon be used against the very people who are cheering it. I explained the difference between 'reality' (cities with 30 million populations) and 'realism' (the Archigram exhibition at the Design Centre), and Alsop's Ontario College of Art & Design showed that he actually does what Venturi only talked about.
April The news that the RIBA planned to sack 4,000 practices because they appeared to have no professional indemnity insurance aroused cries of 'big brother' and predictable comparisons with the ARB.
This showed the climate of fear that over-regulation can create - as did the number of RIBA competitions that were being abandoned. 'Dramatic 47-storey tower to go up over Leeds'? Hmm. I argued that recession is a kind of economic schizophrenia.
May Nuclear versus solar - a rematch. 'Couple in sunheat house frizzle at 158 ¦' ran the headline in the Sunday newspapers in the summer of 1974. But the only answer is nuclear power at 17 per cent of present day capacity, and who wants that? On another tack, I learned that the grown-up version of that old 1980s standby 'mischievous commissions' is now called 'trophy architecture'. Nobody likes it but everybody does it if they get the chance.
June 'H G Wells got it wrong' - my headline of the year. The usually farsighted futurist failed to foresee the motor car's impact on 20th century settlement patterns (H G died in 1946). On the other hand, the Peabody Trust was warned by the Audit Commission that its return to prefabrication should pay less attention to design and more to 'the real issues surrounding the maintenance of the existing housing stock'.
July/August 'Government to raise cost of planning by charging architects by the hour' - to which an architect replied: 'It will create the same sort of resentment as when you hire a lawyer'. To put it mildly! The issues arising from the war against terrorism centred on the question of who and how many persons were entitled to be evacuated from central London and how, and were answered by the parallel discovery that a search was in progress to find large open spaces capable of holding up to 250,000 persons.
September Straws in the wind: Charles Kennedy vows to sack Lord Rogers if Lib Dem candidate wins mayoralty. In vengeful mood, CABE rejects scheme by ex-Foster design guru. Los Politicos Ecossais caused the Holyrood cost fiasco.
October The world and his wife cram into the Swiss Re restaurant top floor to celebrate the opening. Strange building, floor-to-ceiling heights seem too low, views out are 'letterboxed' despite its attenuated structural frame? November/December ?but it is a masterpiece, a quantum lift for the science of construction against a backdrop of 'Clissold faces the bulldozer'.