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Architecture isn’t immune to TV’s love of yoof speak and psycho-wash

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Rory Olcayto discusses the Secret Life of Buildings on Channel 4

At some point in the past 10 years (or is it 15?), TV presenters began giving viewers, ‘one hundred and twenty per cent’. They stride towards you, meatily mouthing words so you can see them being formed before you’ve actually heard them. They’ll probably have Tony Blair hands as well; hands that move in a certain, deliberate way, that make what’s being said seem more important than it is. It’s as if everything we watch now, whether on politics, art or science, is really made for kids. Y’get me? Wicked.

Architecture programmes and their presenters are not immune. In the recent, very popular Secret Life of Buildings on Channel 4, its presenter, architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff (pictured below), came across more than a bit Big Brother: oversized black framed glasses; a tight-fitting Norman Wisdom jacket, dark jeans with massive turn-ups and a penchant for hipsterised baby-talk. ‘Wow. This is properly awesome,’ he said, of a gothic church interior.

In his favour, Dyckhoff makes some heartfelt points. He calls for better space standards in new homes and slams the moneyshot culture of global starchitecture. He even raps Rab Bennetts for being too goddamn client-friendly. And unlike Kevin McCloud, Dyckhoff doesn’t decide to like everything by the end of the show.

But Dyckhoff’s biggest crime is not against fashion, or even thoughtful telly that demands you smarten up. (Has there been a better architecture programme in recent years than Off Kilter, Jonathan Meades’ ‘quixotic tour of Scotland’?). It’s against his colleagues in the press. The show’s killer message - that buildings ‘secretly’ change how we feel, depending on how low the ceiling is or how much natural light there is, validated using cod-scientific, massively massaged research - will surely usher in a horrible new era of PR dross. ‘This building is good for your body… and your soul,’ kind of thing. Forget Green-wash, Pyscho-wash is here. Sick. Know what I mean?

Secret Life

Secret Life

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