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Dragging the BBC from a world of sticky-back plastic into where it's @

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Ian Martin climbs into the White City Think Tank

Monday. Results of last week’s poll: Should I bother doing this poll? YES – polls are part of my zeitgeist toolkit, 44 per cent. NO – polls are rubbish and I want my voice heard, 11 per cent. WHATEVER – more important things to worry about; I don’t even know why I’m doing this poll, 45 per cent.

Tuesday. Curse this recession. I’m having to cover the Ideal Vernacular Home Show for something called Clunch. Which isn’t even a magazine.

It’s a directory for the new wave of homeowners living conspicuously ‘local’ lives. The sort who ‘source food’ rather than go shopping. There’s a buoyant demand for Frugality Chic accoutrements. Say you want to do something clever with an old railway sleeper – turn it into a kitchen table, or a democratic hen house, or a gorgeous ethno-ironic totem pole. Is that railway sleeper a local material? Life is a postcode lottery, my friend. It’s local SOMEWHERE, isn’t it? In a sense it’s local everywhere.

Architectural salvage is a global industry, like the trade in Iraqi antiquities, yeah? Style beats substance, so once that railway sleeper’s vernacular, it can be local anywhere. And at the Ideal Vernacular Home Show, anywhere’s everywhere. There are national suppliers of local materials, and itinerant craftspeople with business park addresses (if a business park isn’t a local resource, what is?). There are skiploads of products and materials.

Sofas upholstered with hide from cattle raised on a Victorian diet. A cappuccino machine with a cobbler’s last handle. Local shower curtains. Thatched Smart cars. Digital HD set-top boxes in bamboo. Weeny jute sacks of ornamental Lakeland screed. Wall coverings made from precious pre-war industrial soot. After three hours of this I’m absolutely vernaculared.

Wednesday. Go all ‘fretro’ by studying Architecture of Fear.

Thursday. To White City for an emergency BBC ‘think-through’. Now Television Centre’s been partially listed, there’s a bit of a panic on. Under Operation BBC Refresh, the governors planned to relocate everybody to an award-winning ventilated shed in Salford, sell the hideously quirky landmark to some young bastards in haircuts and then spend any profit on a secret project called Graham Norton’s Inyouendo. Meanwhile the haircut-compliant bastards would demolish everything on theold site and develop a lively mix of urban crashpods, boutique shopping and free-range corporate eel farms. All packed in and stacked up and oozing ‘class’ and rizzled over with pointless architectural flourishes like some giant bloody round-winning starter on bloody Masterchef. Well, the ‘mimsy heritage spoilsports’ have stopped all THAT.

Our little think tank knocks some ideas around on uncomfortable chairs beneath a sort of giant suspended plastic mushroom showing clips from Only Fools and Horses. Maybe we could STILL send everyone to Salford and turn TVC into a Living Sixties Archive Museum. Or what about a Dr Who Experience for paying punters? That IS essentially what the BBC’s for. You could even bring back the Radiophonic Workshop, make it interactive with cartoons and very loud music. One wag from Radio 5 Live says: let’s remember we’re the state broadcaster, maybe we should convert the place into a humane prison for single parents banged up for not
paying their TV licence, ‘as an example to others’. Idiot.

My own masterplan has been on the director-general’s desk for months. I persuade everyone to adjourn to the nearest pub, about three miles away. There, I get a crumpled envelope out of my pocket and scrawl a big ? on it. This, famously, is the origin and generator of the building plan. I turn the envelope over and scribble a big @. Now that’s much more resonant with the Twitter generation and would allow the BBC to share a remodelled Centre WITH the bastard haircut people. It would be denser and more unpleasant to inhabit, therefore sustainable and morally correct. Doubles all round.

Friday. I think the Stirling Prize should be a proper race, with points for construction speed. Then architecture would be acknowledged as the rigorous training
regime it truly is. Hm, but what would happen if one of the Stirling Prize finalists tested positive for banned substances? If people did architectural stand-up, I bet this is the sort of thing they’d muse upon.

Saturday. Exchange pithy Stirling aphorisms with architects on Twitter. Want to recommend client Bygningsfonden’s Fuglsang Kunstmuseum, but it won’t fit.

Sunday. Deform into intelligent mass in the recliner.




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