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A marvellous, magical tour through London’s architectural back passages

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Ian Martin heads to Barkitecture 2010

I’m in London all week for the Festival of Coalition Architecture. It’s the usual cavalcade through epic space, but this year with a more ‘sexy, consensual adult feel’. Everywhere you go people in inappropriate trousers are talking about the new political climate and wondering which side they should ‘dress’ these days. Others in a symphony of lightweight ethnic fabrics agree that feminism in architecture should be reserved for weekends, when it may be powerfully combined with fine wines. There’s a surprising unanimity about what Coalition Architecture means, though. It’s a pact with society. After years of moral confusion architects are once again free to create buildings physically expressing conservatism, with little flecks of liberalism in the facade. In return for this creative freedom, society has agreed not to have its revenge for another five years. It’s like some aesthetic defects non-liability period.

A crowd of us follow an open-top landau up Regent Street. Inside, grim-faced, sit three architectural heavyweights in ‘bigwigs’. Designer and bon viveur BA Flight; publisher and Commissioner for the Unbuilt Environment Barry Chuff; architectdeveloper Walter Hodboddle. They’re promoting the idea of a ‘Nash Ramblas’ across the capital. Unfortunately, the researcher’s made a huge blunder and they are not dressed as John Nash, the Prince Regent and the Grand Old Duke of York. Instead the generously proportioned trio have been squeezed into loon pants, tie-dyed grandad shirts and cowboy jackets. Still, if Crosby Stills and Nash WERE around I bet they’d definitely approve the Regency revival.

Off, with a sinking heart, to Barkitecture 2010. ‘Bring your best friend along and join us on a tail-wagging tour of London’s coolest landmarks…’ Now call me old-fashioned but if your ‘best friend’ has four legs and shits in the park it may be time to widen your social circle. I admit, an architect’s dog is more forgiving than most critics. But the crowd assembling in Bloomsbury is a sorry sight. Half the participants are panting, whimpering and sniffing one another’s bottoms. The other half are barking. I recognise a high-pitched yelping from deep within the crowd. It is Bauhau, the neurotic dachshund owned by my ex-friend Darcy Farquear’say of the Creative on Sunday. I try to avoid catching Darcy’s eye but it’s too late. He leaves off conversationally dry-humping some overwrought ponce in a trilby and comes over. He’s preceded by Bauhau, shuffling along in a Christina Aguilera-style arseless bodysleeve. ‘Oh we’re THRILLED you could make it, aren’t we Bauhau?’ Yip! ‘A fascinating itinerary. Georgian terraced kennels, Hawksmoor’s Dog Hospital, a pop-up Fido Lido for mixed owner/pet bathing. They’ve even turfed over the entire Brunswick Centre to demonstrate how landmarks can be transformed into massive animal toilets…’ ‘Excuse me sir, is this your dog?’ A bumptious official in a luminous Festival Security tabard has appeared. He’s pointing at Bauhau. Certainly not, I say. ‘Do you HAVE a dog with you, Sir?’ I do not. ‘In that case, I’m afraid I cannot let you proceed beyond this point. The entire area has been designated for dogs and dog owners only. I’ll have to ask you to move along…’ I’m prepared to argue with him, but not with his German Shepherd. I bid au revoir to Darcy and Bauhau, and rejoin the real world with some relief.

To the V&A for the keynote festival exhibition, The Little House of Little Houses. It’s an anthology of exquisite small spaces curated by Mark Question, the celebrated installation artist. First in the set is the Angry House. Visitors are invited to stand around, shouting at the floor and chucking mud balls in a social experiment aimed at creating an emotional analogue to asteroid formation ‘and the often difficult journey from particle physics to arts funding’. We then move into the Hungry House (‘let’s not have lunch, together’), the Mumbly House (‘say something confessional, but to YOURSELF!’) and the Tumbly House, where shifting planes force visitors to achieve and then lose emotional and actual balance. Sod this. I’m off to the free house where I confront a conceptual paradox by paying for a large scotch.

Study the Goldhawk Roadthrough binoculars. Lots of traffic. Boring, occasionally moving.

Walking tour of the City wearing cardboard visors below our eyes so we only see buildings from the first floor up.

Pimp my recliner.


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