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Negotiating architectural jargon is much quicker if you take the upcycle path

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Ian Martin mingles with the halloumi brigade

Monday. To a seminar at the Institute of Plasmic Arts, discussing new challenges for architects in the Age of Certainty. It’s called Thinking The Box.

Summary: for too long architects thought ‘inside it’, then spent so long thinking ‘outside it’ they forgot what the it was. Now clients have decided they want designers to refocus on the box itself. This will allow other professions, charging a much higher day rate, to occupy that box and think creatively within it. God, boxing’s brutal isn’t it?

Tuesday. At last, outline planning permission for my 42-storey tower in Paddington. I have taken the precaution of having it pre-nicknamed The Stakeholder, as it resembles an elongated herb planter supported by bamboo stakes.

It drew some sharp criticism from the (ha ha moribund) Commission for Architectural Icon Delivery, whose report concluded that ‘this wilfully stupid design sets up all sorts of challenges for the surrounding area, and in our view it is a pile of shit’. However, all interested parties – developer, letting agent, marketing consultant – declared it ‘a masterpiece’. I have taken the precaution of calling these key project partners ‘cucumbers’.

The Stakeholder will contain hundreds of boutique flats, a boutique hotel with boutique café and bar and a ground floor ‘trendy clothes’ shop. We’re now waiting for an environmental impact assessment. I’m pretty sure this will be OK as according to my ecological spreadsheet the whole thing is ‘carbon negative’. Then I, in partnership with the other cucumbers, can take this scheme forward, and upward.

Wednesday. Great news that the ban on product placement in architecture has finally been lifted. I’m already in discussions with manufacturers, exploring ways of reducing building costs through sponsorship. And at the same time, of course, expanding the aesthetic reach of architecture.

Imagine cladding stamped all over with advertising. Bricks with individual little marketing slogans. Windows with logos etched in the top left hand corner, like on the telly. Buildings would be so rich in detail we wouldn’t have to bother making stuff interesting at ALL. And at night, even the suburbs would be a profusion of blinking, glowing, mute testimonials to a vibrant construction industry.

Thursday. I can’t decipher this brief from a local authority. They’re looking for a ‘visionary designer’ to ‘upcycle one of the borough’s most deprived housing estates’.

I mean, obviously I understand the first part. For as long as any of us can remember ‘visionary designer’ has meant ‘posh bastard in pretentious glasses’. But what does upcycle mean? Perhaps it’s a hybrid of upmarket and recycle: that thing where you ‘pump-prime’ social housing with public funding, then sell it on to the halloumi brigade.

Maybe I’m thinking too laterally. Maybe it just means ‘re-imagine the estate as a bicycling community’. No, ridiculous. They’d just be going round and round in circles, like me. I ring the council, only to discover that the fast-changing world of Austerity Politics has worked its evil magic again. All local authority planners have now been ‘decycled’. Let’s hope they were wearing redundancy helmets.

The council’s development control operations have been ‘upscaled’, that is transferred to a planning services provider with headquarters in Spain and shareholders in the Bahamas. So I email THEM to ask what upcycled means. Eventually, I get a very snippy reply from their Corporate Relations Division: ‘Upcycled as in aspirationalised, details to be finalised after full consultation with residents, sorry it’s sub judice at the moment’.

I think I understand. The council need someone to visualise the sort of thing they might conceivably want to do if the definition of upcycled were as excitingly vague as possible. Not for the first time, I reflect on how architects’ use of opaque, insidery jargon and opaque, insidery architecture has left both our language and our landscape upfucked.

Friday. Devise a prototype Big Society biomass plant that ingeniously solves two major problems – soaring energy costs and a critical shortage of cemetery space – then think better of it.

Saturday. Can product placement be retrofitted? Only I’ve had a brilliant idea for generating an income stream from listed buildings. Even if, say, the original brickmakers have long gone, you could still tag any repairs. As long as advertising is contextual and respectful – Georgian fonts etc – I see no problem at all.

Sunday. Day off. Place self in excellent new Rodin Horizontalise™ recliner.

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