And should architecture be predatory, or imaginary? Ian Martin tackles the big questions
Monday Spend all bloody morning working up my Heart of Doha scheme, then break for lunch and discover I pulled out the wrong file. For the last four hours I’ve been tweaking the Heart of Nairobi.
Still. If I didn’t notice, will anyone else? Reworkings of city centres are identical now, the principles universal. Clear the site and create a business plaza, respecting local architectural history in a little museum nearby. Functionally cleanse remaining residents to the suburbs, push up office rents and make sure all the buildings look great from a helicopter. Ideally, they should form a coherent ‘whole’, like a display of kitchen appliances in Comet.
By mid-afternoon I’ve broken the Heart of Doha. And don’t tell me it’s not place-specific. There are over 220 buildings in this scheme AND I’ve included three fucking hectares of Heritage Quarter! The clients can stuff that with whatever indigenous culture they see fit. I email the outline scheme over.
Later, an anxious call from the clients’ chief imagineer. Where’s the Innovation Hub? Oh bollocks, I forgot. Resolve the problem by commandeering a corner of the light creative industrial estate and putting a wibbly-wobbly roof on top.
Tuesday Intellectually ‘retool’ myself. It feels a bit like putting your head in a giant pencil sharpener.
Wednesday Three meetings in a row at the RIPBA, each qualified by the words ‘extraordinary’ or ‘emergency’. The sequence is as follows: Futures and Perceptions, coffee and biscuits, Brand Navigation, lunch, Media and Marketing, afternoon tea.
The most important of these, excluding lunch, is Brand Navigation, the boiler room of the institute, where global professional ambition is driven by incinerated subscription income. Until recently everyone was very pleased with themselves. The international presence of the RIPBA became synonymous with power. Not the mimsy power to change lives but the much sexier, fascistic power to scribble massive cocks and balls on Dubai’s stupid toilet wall of a skyline.
They even got that awful McCall woman to front the annual Stirling Prize. ‘Creators of epic space, this is Davina, you’re live on Channel 4, please do not lecture us about sustainability…’ Yeah, they’re having a bit of a rethink now. Maybe it wasn’t such a brilliant idea after all, branding British architects as whoreish businessmen. Dressed like bankers, talking like bloody accountants. ‘I wonder if our macho posturing may have kept The Ladies away…’ muses one ironic teenage brand navigator.
Hilariously, the RIPBA is now going to pretend that it’s been promoting British architecture as some kind of moral balm for the last 20 years, and that any inference of venal capitalist jiggery-buggery is both wrong and hurtful. ‘There is an urgent need,’ says the RIPBA president, whose name escapes me for the moment, ‘for a symbol of the New Us.’ He’s pelted with biscuits. ‘Sorry, not New Us, the… Real Us. The Eternal Us…’
Not a single one of them in the pub after work. Even factoring out those who don’t look 18, this is a pretty dismal state of affairs.
Thursday Lunch with Piers Plowman, the urbane sarcasticist who writes about ‘architecture and shit’ for what we always, laughingly, self-regardingly, refer to as the Opening Times and the Sunday Opening Times.
He’s got this theory based on the Festival of Britain mascots, the Lion and the Unicorn. Architectural taste, like political parties in power, ping-pongs between periods of predatory, aggressive style and a more reflective, fabulous artistry. He thinks we’re entering a Lion period and that architects are lagging behind fashion. I’m not sure. I think they might be ahead of the game by 15 years, which is why they’re always out of step with everyone else. In which case they need to be thinking Unicorn.
A slightly chevronned Piers orders more prosecco, pronouncing it perfectly.
Friday That’s it – the RIPBA crest! It hasn’t been redesigned for at least three years. It was always a disaster, with those grim stylised lions and their pickle forks.
I recommend a new crest with two unicorns rampant, or at least awake. Maybe holding iPhones. As a nod to the vanished pickle forks, they could flank a gherkin.
Saturday Coco Binsley, head of Brand Navigation, loves the idea and incites me to think further ‘outside the blob’.
Sunday Brainflap in the recliner. Why not reduce the RIPBA to a Twitter feed? They’d save a FORTUNE…