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Architecture and Education in a scramble for Gove’s ‘yummy money’

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Ian Martin joins The Gove’s Rethinking Taskforce

To a conference: ‘Redefining Zero-Carbon Construction in an Uncertain Financial Climate’. Summary: redefine zero as ‘anything in single figures’, redefine carbon as ‘visible lumps e.g. coal, diamonds’, redefine construction as ‘the process by which the meaning of an ambiguous provision of a statute, written document, or oral agreement is determined’. Yeah, pick the bones out of THAT, anti-PFI troublemakers!

A row is simmering between the RIPBA and ‘Gove’, the new secretary of state for education. The one who looks like a veal calf in a Next suit. Suddenly I’m a bridge between the two sides.

This isn’t necessarily bad. Bridges have a certain prestige, often winning architecture competitions in the absence of interesting architecture. But given the prickly new regime at the Department for Strictly Education and the inherent dimness of the RIPBA, I don’t feel like the Millau Viaduct here. I feel like one of those rickety rope bridges they have on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. I am swaying, and creaking.

The problem is a conflict of interest. I am a member of the RIPBA’s Building Jobs for the Future team, which lobbies government to put quality fees at the heart of the education procurement process. I have also just been appointed to The Gove’s new Rethinking Taskforce, which will adjust and realign public perceptions of what education is and how profits should be divided.

I hope, fervently, that reconciliation is possible so that I can continue getting paid twice.

To the RIPBA. Everyone is seething, especially president Dame Helen Button. We all agree there should be immediate restorative action by The Gove, as architects everywhere have been saddened and hurt by the suggestion that some of them were ‘creaming off’ vast amounts of money from the schools budget. The ones who weren’t are particularly saddened.

‘It is utterly, butterly wrong to accuse architects of semi-skimming the public milk,’ says Dame Helen angrily, banging the table. ‘Good architecture has absolutely no political thought in it at all and must not be used as some sort of cow gun to fire dairy-based metaphors at design professionals, and udders. These slings and arrows, not to mention cheeseballs, are falling in the wrong place…’

After some discussion, we agree to present The Gove with two very clear demands. One, stop saying nasty things about architects working on school projects. Two, a firm commitment to preserve world-class design fees for school projects.

I offer to take these demands to the Department in person.

To a meeting of the Rethinking Taskforce, a collection of earnest young people in deconstructivist haircuts. Apart, that is, from one clapped-out old git the new regime’s clearly inherited, like a bat nesting in the attic. It takes a while before I realise this is the guy I’ve been arguing with on Twitter for the last three months, ‘Inchworm’. He’s here in an ‘out-of-box-thinking’ capacity. Idiot. His last Big Idea was to fit giant turntables under all new schools so that if they failed in the future parents could see them ‘being turned round’. The Gove is in the chair, gently stroking a white longhaired cat.

The main item on our agenda is how to squeeze capital works projects, so that more money can be distributed to his new favourite user group – pushy entrepreneurial parents who want to set up their own alternative hothouses. This so-called ‘yummy money’ has to be found from somewhere.

‘Look,’ he says crossly. ‘Architects can’t have it both ways. They’re either artists, in which case they’re a luxury, or they’re pragmatic problem-solvers, in which case here’s a problem for them: no more money. Ahahaha!’ Everyone purrs along with the cat.

I suggest a compromise. Disband the bidding cartels and tell architects they can have their money but only if they come together round a stripped-pine kitchen table drinking viognier and listening to Eva Cassidy at near-undetectable levels and then hatch a plan with like-minded aspirational souls to create the NEED for a new school. We decide to consider the matter further.

Design a windpipe-mounted vuvuzela for World Cup SHITHEADS who’ve run out of flag space on their FUCKING CARS.

Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Phenomenominalism 1, Fauxmophobia 1 after extra time for ball-fumbling.

Reverse overview in recliner.


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