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A kick in the barracks from Bungalow Bill

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The Chelsea saga is doing Ian Martin’s head in. Is it, he wonders, time to sack the client…

Monday Meeting of the Olympic Rebadging Taskforce. The gravity of the situation is taking its toll, even on Games Minister Suzi Towel.

That compulsory Mexican Wave we have before Apologies for Absence gets more perfunctory each time. Nobody does the good-natured booing now when the wave gets to Treasury Steve and he refuses to join in. Oh sure, Suzi still says ‘Yay!’ every time the word ‘Olympics’ is mentioned. But these days it’s without the exclamation mark.

Still. Not all gloom. The IOC inspectors came over for a tour of the building site – correction, Delivery Park – and went home happy. It’s amazing how much international goodwill can be generated by a good lunch, a Cornetto on an open-topped Routemaster and a nap on the plane home. No awkward questions about the £9.3 billion budget, which we’re rather cleverly rebadging as being ‘under control’.

Suzi explains. ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas. And the Olympics – yay – is for the sustainable regeneration of East London, not just for a fortnight of world-class competitive sport and various sponsorship opportunities. We’re still three years off, and the budget is very much a puppy. It’s under control in the sense that we’ve taught it to wee and poo outside, but obviously it has to develop into a complete dog, doesn’t it?’ 

Meanwhile, we’re further downgrading architectural expectations to Level 2 (‘mild irritant, avoid contact with eyes’), ironically announcing plans to ‘recycle’ the Velodrome, and redefining ‘shit-eating grin’ as ‘brave face’.

Tuesday Launch of a new campaign by Designers for Ethical Change, extending their pledge not to use any building material that cannot be absorbed by ‘The Earth’.

Now, heroically, they’re promising to avoid any design element that cannot be absorbed by architectural criticism.

Wednesday Get a weird message through on Twitter: ‘If you put all the bollocks talked about Chelsea Barracks together they would form one enormous bollock the size of the Bilbao Guggenheim!’ Then, a hyperlink.

I follow it. There’s a feverish rant. ‘Who cares whether the style of luxury flats is “Snivelling, Obedient and Contemporary” or “Preposterous Costume Drama”? They’re LUXURY FLATS! Change the architect? Let’s change the client! This site used to be in public ownership. Now it belongs to the Qatari royal family i.e. tossers with absolute power. No wonder the Prince of Wales wants to be their mate! Let’s sack EVERYONE, including the monarchy, and start again. And have something on the Chelsea Barracks site that we as a nation can be proud of. What about some decent barracks? Accommodation for people whose idea of a tough day is a bit more daunting than having to “battle” through traffic to get to the fucking Muji sale…’

I’m moved to reply, then realise the whole thing’s in my head, in a folder marked Chelsea Bollocks.

Thursday Redesign the top end of South Korea’s capital city with a 1970s Wigan Casino vibe to make it more ‘Northern Seoul’, then retire hurt.

Friday Dusty Penhaligon the conservationist is moaning about listing again. ‘Got it all wrong in my view. All wrong. Instead of NOT listing a building because its character has been altered, they should aggressively list it and make the owner restore it to the point where it REGAINS its character and validates the listing…’ He’s an idiot, but I like his sense of mischief. And the fact that he’s serious.

His latest masterplan would solve the housing crisis and expand the built heritage at a single stroke. ‘Waiting lists for social housing are at record levels, while stocks of classic post-war temporary homes are dwindling, right? Solution. Whack up half a million historically accurate 1950s prefabs, complete with Bakelite televisions and Brutalist coal bunkers…’ He sucks on his roll-up and cackles.

The mission now is to mobilise all-party support in the Commons for something he’s calling, without any detectable irony, a Bungalow Bill.

Saturday To Pimlico. The annual Designers for Ethical Change charity ball. Every leading commentator on the built environment is there, guzzling wine and glossing tropes.

I’m swapping topography jokes with Candice Brakes, editor of Texture, when she spots some fop in a three-piece kaftan, clutching a hyperactive dachshund. ‘Oh, do you know Darcy Farquear’say?’ No, I say. I don’t.

Sunday Hangover in the recliner, interrupted by an irate call from the RSPCA.


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