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A middlebrow Middle East, and a medieval future for Middle England.

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Ian Martin gets a taste of corpulent materialism

Monday. To Portland Place. Dame Helen Button, president of the Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects, has convened a ‘design chattette’. This is like a charrette, but much less formal.

We’re here to re-architecturalise the institute, to design a new Duality of Purpose. The institute must defend the interests of a chartered British diaspora of architects, but it needs to reach out and touch the hearts of ordinary folk, who simply don’t understand how brilliant and saintly architects are.

We start off with the customary blank sheet of A4 and by mid-afternoon we’ve got two things written down. The phrase ‘Wither The RIPBA?’ has been crossed out; underneath, the same thing but with corrected spelling. Then an epiphany. Why not refresh the institute by swapping its traditional relationships with members and the ‘outside world’?

Excellent. From now on, members of the public will be told firmly not to compete with one another to secure cheap architecture. And architects will be urged to stop cutting corners and to put design quality at the heart of the procurement process for a bloody change.

Tuesday. Crisis meeting at the Straw Bale Association. I’m one of their sustainable non-executive directors and extremely energyefficient, usually turning up only for the AGM.

But suddenly everything’s frantic. Straw is now the first choice of material for bumptious, conscientious urban developers as it’s ecologically sound, cheap and is applauded by people on Twitter. The trouble is, it has to be an ‘agricultural by-product’ to have that sophisticated recycled peasant quality. And unless it’s locally sourced, the green authorities will be down on you like a ton of lime mortar.

After some discussion we agree that the government should initiate an immediate, massive new wave of city farms.

Wednesday. To Abu Dhabi for a conference, Sex And The City 2. God, what a waste of time. The speakers are just boring consumerist windbags with some very facile ideas indeed about how corporate urbanism might construct a paradigm for non-Arabic, post-Zionist, meta-feminist settlement in the Middle East.

On the plus side, delegates are beautifully turned out. The economic consensus seems to be that recovery is possible, even after a lot of cocktails. And one interesting conference innovation is to have short presentations by the speakers’ personal shoppers, offering fascinating glimpses into the global nature of humane capitalism.

Summary: the commissioning of vast, glittering amusement arcades in the desert by a venal leisure and tourism industry means a high number of fatalities during construction and therefore requires a constant supply of non-unionised labour from India. But it is a price worth paying as Westerners learn about some quaint customs and less civilised people learn all about the power of romance.

Thursday. Rock Steady Eddie the fixer calls with inside information from Coalition HQ. Apparently the Department of Entertainment is revising its five-year architectural forecast. Things are much, much gloomier than previously thought.

Eddie has seen a draft speech to be delivered by architecture minister the Hon. Aeneas Upmother-Brown. ‘I’m emailing it over now. We need to reposition ourselves pronto, Tonto. There are more cutbacks on the way, and they reckon it’s gonna be like the bubonic plague for small practices…’ Whoa. I don’t know how Eddie got hold of it but Upmother-Brown’s notes look pretty scary:

‘Start off with joke. Maybe a Tarantino quote, about how the economy is about to get medieval on yo ass? Have asked English Heritage what implications this might have for architecture. They suggest merlons, embrasures and something called The English Tiebeam Lap-Dovetail Joint. We should perhaps ask Stephen Fry in to reassure everyone that a renaissance will be along in due course…’

Friday. Success. I’ve finally managed to track down somebody with the surname Engineering and whose first name is George. We’re now in talks to thrash out terms for my proposed global consultancy, Geo. Engineering Ltd.

Our first company mission will be to seek R&D sponsorship to develop a prototype fleet of trimarans fitted with eco-chimneys. They would cruise the oceans, puffing salinised hot air up into the clouds in an attempt to get further funding.

Saturday. Leave the entire day ‘fallow’ in line with new medieval approach to things.

Sunday. Embed cultural awareness in the general consciousness by staying awake for a while in the recliner before following my dreams.


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