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Known core givens, unknown core givens and an imaginary conversation

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Ian Martin pretends to write a blockbuster thriller – Forced Perspective

MONDAY. My proposal to smash down an unlisted library in the centre of a Gloucestershire market town and replace it with a flimsy multiplex selling buckets of popcorn for £8 has been rejected by local planners.

Right, this is war. In 3D.

TUESDAY. Cross out ‘cinema’ and scribble ‘increased leisure offer vectoring in regeneration opportunity’ in the margin. Still no luck.

WEDNESDAY. Threaten to sue local planners for malicious restriction of enterprise, red tape, treason and socialism.

Bingo! At last, a victory for common sense and the creative industries.

THURSDAY. I’m in ‘interviewee’ mode. I listen to the question carefully, nodding. Then after the briefest of pauses I drawl, suavely:

‘Well of course in Britain there was once a very STRONG national architectural narrative. Social justice was destined to find its apotheosis in Modernism. But alas, we lost our way. We lost our nerve. I’m afraid the arc of this nation’s architectural narrative since the second world war has gone from beta to meta to beta again…’

I laugh drily. So does my imaginary interviewer. We get on so very well, but then my mind’s such a very congenial place. We wrap up the interview. I see my imaginary interviewer out, then return to the architectural blockbuster thriller I’m pretending to write – Forced Perspective.

FRIDAY. Redesign Sunderland and Hartlepool, making them both more ‘continental’.

I’m giving Sunderland a Nordic makeover: rugged, tragic, jumpered, smoky. The sort of place that could be on BBC4 with subtitles. It will have a blue-grey light, to give the bleakness a more episodic feel. That Danish jeuje doesn’t come cheap though. It will be necessary for Nordic Sunderland to suck the wealth in from miles around. Survival of the knitted.

Hartlepool will consequently have a Mediterranean feel. Bankrupt, shunned, derelict and stubbly.

SATURDAY. A quiet day, so I update my icon templates. Like everyone else in the world of epic space who’s still contextually active, I submit speculative proposals for ‘regional icons’ on average about eight times a month. It’s important to streamline as much as possible.

I remember the wise words of my old friend Suzi Towel, back in the Cool Britannia days when she was secretary of state for ‘culture sport and ting’ under the premiership of that lying shit Blair.

‘It’s all about the core givens’ she told me, smiling. She smiled a lot in those days. I put it down to the hatha yoga, and the fact that she’d recently paid off her massive mortgage in cash. ‘There are basic core givens in any bit of culture, whether it be highbrow such as Grand Designs or whether it be monobrow such as a classic Ealing comedy. But there are KNOWN core givens and UNKNOWN core givens. Also, listen to the emotional tides of your heart, because only then…’

I can’t remember what she said next, I tuned out. But her advice was sound, and to this day guides my regional icon strategy. A client – let us say the chairman of a regional development agency, or a city rebranding executive – requires an emblematic building. The known core givens are obvious: it must look unique, yet familiar; it must be generic but with vernacular bits that stick out. It must look good value for public money, yet extravagant enough to bump up the area’s Google ranking.

The regional design inspiration must be regularly updated. You can’t just keep banging out regional icons for south Wales in the shape of miners’ helmets, ‘recalling the industrial heritage of the area’ for instance. You’ve got to stay fresh. Find new shapes. Think outside the box/helmet. Big tower in the shape of a leek… that sort of thing.

For my new London icon template, I’m ditching the Dickens references and thinking more ‘global centre of excellence’. London’s pretty Americanised. And congested, especially at peak times. Therefore my next London icon will be shaped like a butternut squash.

I’ve had zero luck so far with my iconic Cornish pasty marina, so I’m preparing an icon that pays homage to the Eden Project by looking exactly like it. And the north west has a famously damp atmosphere, right? My next regional icon there will look like a giant discarded flannel.

SUNDAY. Thinking day in the recliner. I invent the term ‘iconographical geopluralism’ then take the rest of the day off.

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