I have seen the future and it’s Stand-Up Architecture
This week in Ian Martin’s fantasy architectural world: the link between comedy and building
MONDAY. Seminar on the Architecture Market. ‘Identifying The Opportunities, Claiming The Benefits’.
TUESDAY. Decline invitation to join a new task force monitoring the quality of ‘our public realm’, on the grounds that it’s called ‘Space Patrol’.
WEDNESDAY. In the pub with this old mate of mine. We’d hooked up through one of those stalky internet communities, both keen to see how old and fat the other one looks now.
Neither of us was disappointed, although I was astonished to discover that he’s completely reinvented himself. The last time we met his name was Keith and he ran a small practice in Edinburgh, specialising in ‘steampunk-gothic pub smokeooteries’.
But he saw the writing on the wall, which said ‘Architecture Is Just Petrified Comedy © Banksy’. Keith packed epic space in, well ahead of the recession, and had a complete life swerve. Today he’s an edgy stand-up comedian called Corky Aftertaste. His training was perfect prep, he reckons. Architects have overview. They analyse a situation, work out rules, reinterpret propositions, synthesise disparate elements. Why, they even add dramatic irony to life with the clothes they wear.
We discuss the recent paper by an evolutionary theorist who’s worked out that all jokes fall into one of eight categories. We go through them, marvelling at how much easier it is to design a humorous monologue than a glamorous Travelodge. While he’s at the bar getting another round in, I go to the Gents and have an epiphany. The rules for comedy and architecture are EXACTLY THE SAME. At last everything falls into place. Architecture’s essentially one big joke.
Joke Category 1 is Positive Repetition. In comedy this means a catchphrase, e.g. ‘the only gay in the Institute’. In architecture, it means Unite d’Habitation or Cumbernauld. Depends how sarcastic a person you are. Le Corbusier loved positive repetition. His writing’s full of it, and is virtually unspoofable: ‘I took the “Modulor” out of my pocket: correct = 226 at (A)!’
Category 2 is Scale. See, starting to make sense now? Think of the crazy, oversized caricatures in Spitting Image, or their counterparts at a salon des arts in Bedford Square. Scale is just as much a cheap laugh in architecture as it is in comedy. Why is Dubai so offensive and trite and ‘funny’? Because it’s full of stand-up architecture.
Category 3: Qualification. A familiar word said in an unfamiliar way (comedy) or an ordinary roof transformed into a fractured glacier of glass and steel by some genius in a collarless blouson (architecture). Category 4: Qualitative Recontextualisation. This is when something you know well is changed. The office manager acquires comical facial hair, say, or you revisit a historic town centre and discover it’s been turned into some smart-arse heartless pavementised version of itself.
On to 5: Application. When words (or buildings) have a double meaning. As in ‘gherkin’ and ‘affordable’. Ironically some of the best examples of ‘application’ may be found in a planning application, which is full of words and concepts with up to two or three possible meanings. In an architect’s design statement, they may have no meaning at all. Category 6 is Completion. In comedy, this is where the audience has to guess the punchline. In architecture, it’s like Frank Gehry’s Serpentine Pavilion, or anything at the Venice Biennale.
Category 7 – Division – is where ‘a joke is broken up and told by different people’.
Or ‘novation’. Category 8 is Opposition. That’s irony and sarcasm. Think Jeremy Clarkson, doing a piece to camera in front of something massive by Brunel when BANG, he’s tragically killed by a 1955 Morris Minor with an unconscious professor of environmental studies at the wheel.
THURSDAY. Moot theory about Rules of Comedy and Architecture on Twitter. Within minutes, someone called GeniusJoki replies, telling me what he had for lunch.
FRIDAY. Catch Corky’s improv gig at the Saatchi Gallery. Very funny bit where he pretends to be a ‘Baroque Obama’.
SATURDAY. Fancy-dress party at the Institute of Plasmic Arts. Everyone’s there. All the major architectural patrons have had exactly the same brilliant idea and have come as Sir Alan Sugar. There’s an architecture critic I don’t recognise, done up like the Wicked Witch. He’s holding something under his arm. Handbag? Small dog? Munchkin? Whatever, it doesn’t look very comfortable in that flying monkey outfit. Oh, or continent…
SUNDAY. Recontextualise self in recliner.