Ian Martin bargains with RIPBA president Dame Helen
MONDAY. They’re changing gardens at Buckingham Palace. And we’ve got the gig thanks to my business partner, the celebrated magic arborealist Isis de Cambray.
Isis has charmed the Queen with her stylish 1950s clothes and casual racism – a calculated attempt to win favour. Mrs Windsor’s having a turn, and has regressed into a post-war Britain of skiffle, piffle, bubble and squeak. In her world, shuttered concrete is an exotic material. She’s planning a surprise for ‘little Charles, who loves his Meccano and his Eagle comics…’ So are we.
TUESDAY. To the RIPBA for an audience with the president. I’d forgotten they elected a woman – Dame Helen Button – to replace the bloke whose name escapes me.
At the top of the stairs she’s waiting, flanked by grim men. All sitting in silence, little occasional tables piled with cash. I stand there for a moment, unsure of what the protocol is. ‘When you’re ready…’ says Dame Helen, raising an eyebrow. I’ve clearly agreed to pitch for something. God damn it, why can’t I read my own bloody notes once in a while? What’s the agenda? Maybe the Olympics. Everyone’s got something to say about the Olympics…
So, I say, we face a rigorous examination of our artistic talents in 2012. ‘Pfff!’ says Dame Helen. ‘We are not here to discuss the Olympics. There is next to no design involved and anyway it’s being done by overseas conglomerates. We are here to discuss fee bidding.’
Oh, that’s right. Every fifth president takes a stand on architects undercutting competitors. The presidential agenda follows a sequence that goes: architecture as business, sustainability, world domination, architecture on TV and fee bidding, which is what Dame Helen’s been lumbered with. I don’t know who these mysterious men are. Perhaps they’re the institute’s new private-sector partners. There’s a lot of that going on at the moment.
I brainstorm some ideas on the spot, while doomy music plays in the background and everyone scowls. Introduce a Duty to Disclose, so clients have to inform the authorities if an architect puts in a zero bid or, as is increasingly common, offers to leave a cash deposit. All architecture to be barcoded at the conceptual stage. Massive, spiteful penalties for practices being cheaper than anyone else e.g. a six-month ban from RIPBA branch meetings. A feelgood campaign called I Don’t Work For Nothing, with an electronic newsletter and a little song.
I tell them I need £140,000 in return for a 40 per cent stake in my thoughts. It’s a deal.
WEDNESDAY. Charles rings, keen to elbow his way into the Royal Gardens remodelling scheme. Could we include a Waitrose outlet in the masterplan? Only he’s promised them a high-profile launch for his organic sausages etc. No problem, we smirk.
THURSDAY. I have won the design competition for the University of Tamworth’s new school of architecture.
It was an impressive shortlist. I beat Britpunk steam engineer Brian Haverbreaks. AND French-Canadian historicist Plaid Squarely. AND urbanist skyline tapas provider ‘El Corboda’. AND moody Dutch angstmeister Tub Haagendas. AND pop-up favela kick-asstress Rebecca Hebron. AND a Korean YouTube collective of 600 architecture students who can recreate the theme music from The Simpsons on a ‘brick harmonica’.
The new microcampus occupies a 0.064ha site within the old macrocampus and will provide a platform for the highest educational standards, on pilotis. As it is a school of architecture, the design will be especially striking. It will feature a stainless steel ‘sink’ and perhaps a plinth upon which human drama may occur. There will be a suite of water-harvesting options and integrated bicycle racks to encourage less frivolous thinking among students and concentrate their minds on the savage tragedy of life.
FRIDAY. Back to Buck Pal, where Isis and I show Her Majesty some pictures of the Tricorn Centre and the Hayward Gallery. Something like this, perhaps housing a Space Age Super-Market? She’s excited. ‘So MODERN. Charles will be thrilled. But, shhh, Mum’s the word, eh?’ Indeed. Meanwhile, I tell Charles the Queen’s agreed to a ‘heritage’ look for his Royal sausage shop. Now HE’s excited.
SATURDAY. Knock out preliminary sketches for the brutalist Waitrose. It will be a ‘wondrous carbuncle’ we tell her. ‘Oh I can’t WAIT to see his face!’ Yeah, us too.
SUNDAY. Recontextualise self in the recliner.