Ian Martin: 'This is our future heritage we are shrilly talking about'
Ian Martin tackles interfering quangos, critical members of the public, fractious community space
Monday. Decide to ‘future-proof’ a building I’m designing by giving it a more uncertain feel. The scheme has neither client nor purpose, so I’m keeping everything generic. Nobody knows what it, or the future, will hold.
Tuesday. I’ve had a damning appraisal from that most dreaded of quangos, the Commission for Architecture, Views, Interiors and Landscapes.
According to CAVIL, my proposed Twitter Museum is: ‘A prime example of everything wrong with architecture today: it is clumsy, lazy and trivial.This is a tragically awful design. If it were any more pedestrian it would be fined for obstructing the public highway LOL. Here, on a key urban site desperately in need of Wow and Edge, was a golden opportunity to raise the bar. That opportunity has been shamefully squandered. This is our future heritage we are shrilly talking about. Cultural capital must be spent wisely. We are custodians of epic space, not some suburban chav who has just won the National Lottery. It’s OK, suburban chavs aren’t technically working class.’
The commission is extremely critical, yet infuriatingly vague. Exactly how high must I raise it to satisfy these bastards? So high that people can’t even reach their drinks? Idiots.
Wednesday. More trouble looms. Five years ago I designed an ‘aquarium for all the family’ on the bleak outskirts of a depressed south coast city.
The idea was to synergise surging municipal ambition and vibrant local gangsterism by building an ‘iconic maritime leisure destination’. The level of subsidy secured by the culture secretary was impressive. A panel of schoolchildren chose a name for the aquarium – The Bloater – and then everyone more or less left me to it. Basically I just chucked a load of stylish glass staircases and bubbly signage around a massive fish tank.
A Quinquennial User Experience Audit is due tomorrow. It will inevitably confirm that there are ‘issues’. A high proportion of visitors are families with young children, yet entrance to The Bloater is expensive. It’s awkward for anyone pushing a buggy or a wheelchair. Half the ‘interactive’ exhibits stand mute and inactive.The aquarium’s most accessible section is crammed with preachy marine conservation bollocks and a terrible café. In summary, it is malfunctioning at an almost fetishistic level.
Thursday. The quinquennial audit is out, and as predicted includes a litany of design defects that would shame an amateur. Luckily, I am a professional.
As part of my contract, the clients were obliged to hire Chunky Vibes, a consultancy I coincidentally part-owned, to ‘metabrand’ The Bloater via a garish website. Never mind the comprehensive, robust and secure content management solution. Or ‘top positions being achieved on Google across more than 70 different key phrases’. No. The real triumph for The Bloater’s online presence has been our Feedback Page; specifically, the system of discreet cash payments to staff who concoct plausibly misspelled accounts of their fantastic days out at The Bloater, having marvellous family experiences, looking at the fish etc.
These exquisite miniature works of fiction now outnumber real, bad feedback material by a factor of 4 to 1. Good odds in anyone’s user experience audit, and much cheaper than professional indemnity insurance.
Friday. What is ‘community/public space’, and how might we ‘create’ it? This is the weighty subject of a conference at Tamworth’s Centre for Forward Urban Thinking.
First, inspirational developer-philanthropist Sir Tetley Jacobin wants to know ‘how the government will realise the benefits of joining up departments so they can all participate with their respective hats and become “neighbours on the village green”, perhaps discussing the upcoming fete, comparing commute times or moaning about Ocado?’ Then a succession of speakers. An urban geographer suggests tackling the problem of community/public space at a fundamental level, by replacing the forward slash with an ampersand. A member of the RIPBA’s Placemaker Team proposes more case studies.
It is left to the surprise guest speaker – activist Amy Blackwater in her trademark balaclava – to take the piss out of community/public space creation as a patrician idea, and to call for the immediate public reacquisition of all private property. In one sense she failed, as everyone assumed she was doing stand-up. In another she succeeded, as everyone laughed.
Saturday. Shopping. Buy a new respective hat and a joined-up overcoat.
Sunday. Test my sustainability parameters by staying in the recliner all day.