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From Tripoli to St Petersburg, design-trodden people cry out for Autopoiesis

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Ian Martin negiotates his own period of instability

Monday. Text from my friend Molly Bismuth: ‘recommend Loos at RIPBA. Immaculate. Could eat yr lunch off floor in Ladies :)’.

Tuesday. I’ve been asked by a billionaire oligarch to design a £250m palace of culture in St.Petersburg for his art-loving girlfriend’s 30th birthday party. And to masterplan the catering. This happens a lot now on the international scene. The client gets you to conceptualise the opening night food, squeezing extra value from your genius. Most of these gigs are for the nouveaux riches, who haven’t spent years truffling round ancestral homes and Old Europe; they want spectacle, and plenty of booze. My palace o’ culture needs to be totally nafftastic. I’m thinking something Posh and Becksy with a hint of Banksy.

First, the building. Find something old we can spookily leave alone, apart from key interventions in brushed metal and polished concrete. Some ironic graffiti. Maybe a new staircase. The idea is to allow in the ghosts of the past (this won’t affect the catering) thereby exploiting time as a fourth dimension. Peeling warehouses of art are chic at the moment. But the sine qua non is a large cobbled courtyard for a buffet and disco.

This will be covered in a stunning tensile structure designed by, I don’t know, Lady Gaga with weird dangly bits all over it, say. Each corner of the courtyard will be
occupied by a clever lump of confrontational art eg a pre-assembled B&Q shed ‘looked at’ by Tracey Emin; some giant bag of bollocks - correction, perceptionchallenging sculpture - by Anish Kapoor; Gilbert;George. I’ll get Bono to DJ and Mark Ronson to mix the cocktails.

The buffet will be a scale model of St. Petersburg with little buildings made entirely of ICE…no: made from FROZEN MARGARITA. All those bold new gangsterbankrolled skyscrapers that look like giant doner kebabs could actually BE kebabs! Yeah, miniature salad parks and a chilli-sauce River Neva, with ‘St. Pittabread’ roads and pavements. Exquisite little Orthodox churches could be filled with dips and have edible onion domes.Naturally I don’t wish to prescribe the sort of art this culture palace might showcase, although retrospective shows of works from pre-oligarch Russia are always cool.

I’ll remind my client that Russian-themed exhibitions are generally ‘branded’ with jolly signage in mock-Cyrillic with the backwards ‘N’s and the socialist fonts
and that.

Wednesday. To the launch of Architect Barbie. Hard hat, blueprints, make-up, cascading blonde hair, boots, girly skirt, vacant look. I’m not sure women architects would…oh, wait. Sorry, it’s Architect Strippergram Barbie.Thursday. Work up a range of inflatable play spaces modelled on great buildings. Squishy Ronchamp
looks ACE.

Friday. Gloomy lunch with Rock Steady Eddie, my Middle East fixer, to discuss the bloody drama unfolding in Libya.’It’s a bloody TRAGEDY , never mind drama,’ he says. ‘I had some tasty client contacts over there, now it’s all gone tits up and everything’s on hold…’ I point out the indefensible crassness of his remarks in the light of…

‘Listen, Helena Bonham-Carter, you can say what you want about Gadaffi. OK, the bloke dresses like Elton John and throws his weight about occasionally. So what? He’s entitled. His country, right?’

Off my look of astonishment, Eddie warms to his theme. ‘We’ve been friends with Libya for years. You want to lose all those opportunities for liberal architects to get stuck in there with their sustainable this and accessible that, civilising the bloody place? I’ve landed some right classy geezers work over there. Some right classy geezers indeed’.

He lists the schemes he’s shmoozed for British architects. Libya’s tallest building, The Tripolitan, with its distinctive Gadaffi pillbox roof. A string of schools
designed in the Pragmatic Realism style. A dozen universities, ‘where incidentally they behave themselves, no staying in bed all afternoon and going gay for Lent’.
A ‘contemporary’ villa - a tough brief but less challenging than a Roman one. ‘Plus, the transforbloodymation of Libya’s Green Mountain region into one of the world’s
biggest carbon-neutral regeneration zones. Or does a massive carbon-neutral regeneration zone mean nothing to you?’

He finally shuts up and I tell him again how disgusted I am by his comments. Not one of those projects was steered my way. Not one.

Saturday. Pub, period of instability.

Sunday. Transition to democratic recliner, period of stability, autopoiesis, self-determination, little nap.

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