What freedoms do we actually have, except acts of defiance?
It was recently suggested to me that the most shocking thing about the removal of essential ancient freedoms was how little we all seem to care. It is as if the current prosperity of large numbers of the populace is numbing their political senses. This is an idea backed up by the declining number of people who care to visit polling stations, even for a general election. It is therefore not surprising that the Freedom of Information Act, which came into operation on 1 January this year, was greeted with the same enthusiasm a jaded drinker normally reserves for the remnants of a flat bottle of once-sparkling liquid offered as a chaser on New Year's Day.
Still, look on the bright side. You can now go down to your local planning office and exercise your right to see some of the files previously denied you. Actually, this could be quite handy, and I know one or two people who have seen how much they can find out and how well they can use it. Despite my optimistic disposition, I find it hard to summon up the enthusiasm required to enjoy this new freedom. Indeed, in my cynical moments, I see it as something of a sop and, worse still, one that will offer us only a small benefit for a brief moment. For while we may uncover some information on the world pre-2005, we are unlikely, in the future, to uncover much about the world post-2005.
This is because the new act is little more than a linguistic challenge to those in public service (like most glib descriptions, this now odd adjacency - public and servant - has acquired a very ironic dimension). Aware that their writings may one day be revealed, our self-serving and politicised public servants must adopt an even more bureaucratic manner of speech: one that may be understood by all, but in very different ways. No one is guilty, we can all hear what we want to hear and go home deliriously confused. It offers a new slant on the old adage of divide and rule.
There is an even more sinister take on this strange convergence of stick-and-carrot legislation, where, most unfortunately, the stick is always mightier than the brittle vegetable. Let's face it, no one, not even a politician, would attempt to argue that access to planning files is adequate compensation for the removal of the assumption, established in 1215 in a marsh at Runnymede, of habeas corpus. Nevertheless, the implications of the daily grind through the bureaucracy of construction legislation should not be dismissed lightly, as it offers a sharp insight into the general tendency.
The significance and severity of the legislative nightmare came home to me as I scanned my latest copy of Inch's Books' Catalogue 151: Architecture and City Planning - Some rare and unusual titles. Item 85, written in 1939, is described thus: 'Feder lists city planning regulations and requirements in obsessive, almost fanatical, detail.' Apparently, Peter Hall previously described the book as 'the definitive Nazi statement on urban policy'. So the next time you are confronted by the abundant bureaucracy of the control and improvement of detail, layout, process, form and occupation, you should rise to the challenge and overcome the constraint.
Any small triumph is a protest against the idiotic and dangerous idea that the world will be a better place when government legislation attempts to ensure that we are all equally happy doing (or in our case, building) exactly as we are told.
It is extraordinary that we no longer need to ponder Le Corbusier's infinitely interpreted exclamation, 'architecture or revolution', simply because we can be confident that just one cold bridge, carefully concealed within the complexity of construction, has, by denying an abundance of absurd legislation, become an act of defiance: a revolutionary cold bridge.