Tedium and waste follow the rule of blinkered bureaucracy
The latest manifestation of the bureaucrat's fascination with statute is the Disability Discrimination Act, a title that manages to link menace and righteousness simultaneously.
Of course we need to consider disabilities as we construct new buildings and rework old; it makes sense and can make for more enjoyable architecture generally. The problem is the undefined threat to owners of existing buildings without the wherewithal to achieve the standards - whatever they might be deemed to be. Everyone awaits the guidance offered by the first test cases.
I fear we will then witness a tremendous waste as, once the rules emerge, there will be a scramble to comply. We will end up with vast expenditure on under-used and poorly maintained adaptations that do little to ensure satisfactory access. All London's black cabs are now fully disabled-compliant, but every driver advises me they have used the facility only once if at all. The sums expended on this lip-service to access should have been redirected to the provision of a radio-taxi call service for an appropriate number of vehicles;
the surplus could then have been redirected to research into the design of wheelchairs that can climb into taxis and up stairs.
This is a subject of particular concern in Britain, where we diligently hound those who transgress EC-inspired codes of inclusion.
Fortunately, there are still many locations in Europe where this is not the case. A recent trip to Venice with my partners highlighted how far we in the UK have slid into the abyss of health and safety. Not one bridge, canal footpath, or indeed the paraphernalia of exhibition stand designs, complied with any of the codes with which we are threatened.
Yet society flourished. People kept an eye out for the trip hazards on the water's edge. The Venetians similarly avoid the numerous projecting signs and shutters that are supposed to be a danger to our eyes, unless the predilection for oversized Gucci sunglasses reflects a need for safety apparel.
So what of the Biennale, 'Metamorph'?
In the Arsenale, the curator tried to theme projects ('superfici' was one that worked well, if only in pidgin translation). The identifiable themes were fantasy folding (the suggestion by the use of curved corners that an aesthetic articulating stacked floor plates is somehow about a continuum of space); surnames (how else do Hopkins and Hadid share one space? ), and process is product (take six diagrams and morph into one landscape building). It made for a most enjoyable afternoon: as always, it was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly.
The pavilions in the Giardini were a mixed bag. The multinational main pavilion ('Episodes in Praise of Shadows', a junk title for a junk show) suggested nothing more than that the cultural cloning of concert halls is in vogue - are there enough audiences or performers to fill these tediously repetitive explorations of dreary shape-making? The award-winning Belgian Pavilion succeeded because its unctuously humble message - life in Kinshasa is tough and architecture of excess is a Western indulgence - actually struck a chord as you became overwhelmed by showboating architecture.
Highlights of the trip were the best of the Biennale in the October sun; the repedestrianisation of a flooded St Mark's Square by what appeared to be banqueting tables; a meal with the family Zogolovitch, regaled with tales of life in Venice and Roger's ability to buy an entire cladding system for .30/m 2 (the trick is to find the beginning of the supply chain); and the sight of a densely inhabited, layered cruise liner, reminding us that much remains to be borrowed.