My anarchist friends have very fragmented views about architecture
Ian Martin rebadges Old Stepney, deploying double bluff and doublethink
Monday. I have drawn up a ‘macroplan’ for the redevelopment of Old Stepney in east London. Originally it was a ‘regeneration masterplan’ but everyone thought that was a bit of a mouthful.
In consultation with the People of Stepney, i.e. the local authority’s PFI marketing provider, I re-imagineered the regeneration masterplan as a ‘reshaping vision’. Then I had to abandon that as well: ‘delivery issues’! Pah. Never mind, now my macroplan is all about maximising potential. Social connectivity. Aspirational tipping point. Short, verbless drivelly sentences. Sorted.
I have macroplanned a network of ‘improved open space’. This will mysteriously appear all over Stepney and then be theoretically linked to ‘new infrastructure’ and other environmental overlays set up ‘to better connect places’. The idea is that all networks, both real and psychic, will sort of come together like one of those optical illusions popular in the 1970s, to produce a New Stepney of genuine depth and interest.
Sweet as a fair trade pistachio, as the Stepney folk say.
Tuesday. I think the RIPBA competitions website has been hacked. Latest opportunities include project managing a credit transfer for the terminally ill King Of All Nigerian Architects. And a ‘pop-up male impotence clinic in the shadow of the Gherkin…’
Wednesday. The People of Stepney (aka Cathita Outsourcing Solutions) don’t like New Stepney. They love the word ‘macroplan’, apparently it ‘takes lower case and a bold font really well’. But New Stepney is simply ‘too Blairy, like we’re trying to suggest that economic recovery means building homes for yuppies’.
I’m caught somewhere between double bluff and doublethink. The macroplan renderings show ‘flat white’ types frozen in conversation about bonuses and fusion food as they amble like fucking gods round some urban village green. Of COURSE this is all about gentrification. I am reminded that ‘what this is all about’ is neither here nor there. We need a better name for Stepney, end of. Bah!
Thursday. To an illegal pub, The A In The Circle And Firkin, hidden deep inside a mysterious forest in Essex. Its ‘microbrewery’ may actually be just a pile of stolen cans of lager with a tarpaulin over it, the ‘toilets’ may be an unsheltered unisex reed bed, but at least you can smoke indoors.
I’m here to meet Amy Blackwater and Dusty Penhaligon, the Bonnie and Clyde of extreme eco-conservactionism. Now they are An Item, the built environment feels much more fragile and vulnerable. Through a mist of roll-up smoke and Levellers music, they outline their fiendish plan to blow up the ‘socialist, beaconic’ Finsbury Health Centre on the night it relaunches as a boutique spa.
Part of me condemns the senseless loss of life, of course it does, but another part of me has prepared a guest list of people I would like to see make a splash on Opening Night. I show it to Amy while Dusty’s ordering another round from the cooler end of the tarpaulin. She seems a little surprised, as far as she can seem anything at all from inside a balaclava. ‘Really? You want to assassinate HER? And HIM? But I thought they were your FRIENDS…’ She’s very sentimental for an anarchist.
Dusty returns with the drinks and I discover the real reason for this meeting. Having assembled a team of eco-martyrs, it now seems a waste to have everyone sitting round waiting for Club Lubetkin Wellness Hub and Relaxarium to open before they can destroy something. Amy’s crew are now looking for mercenary work. For the right price and a vague ideological alignment they’ll send in a human bombshell for what Amy calls The Harshest Architectural Crit Of All.
‘Yeah,’ says Dusty. ‘You’ve tried the rest, now try someone with 15kg of powerful explosive strapped to her chest.’ They both laugh mirthlessly. I don’t know why, but I’m starting to feel a little uneasy about all this.
Friday. Try out my rebadge for Stepney – Yupney – on the Cathita team. They think I’m taking the piss, so I pretend I am.
Saturday. Success. Approval for a new name at last. In the born-again, post-Olympic United Blingdom, this area of Tower Hamlets will be known as… DUB STEPNEY!
Sunday. Epiphany in the recliner. The phrase ‘this area is uniquely located’ is both the most overused platitude in architectural and planning circles and obviously the most UNDERUSED, as everywhere is.