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Observing the space limit, sending out the right signals

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Ian Martin meets the Tamworth residents’ vocal group

MONDAY. I’m conceptualising a boutique urban microvillage for the ultra-chic ‘historic quarter’ of Tamworth.

The local, anonymous client has made a fortune recently. My fixer Rock Steady Eddie did say how but I’ve forgotten. MD of a payday loan company, maybe. Drug dealer, private landlord, education tycoon, I can’t keep up with capitalism’s late Rococo flowerings.

We have to be careful with this boutique microvillage, it’s in an incredibly sensitive conservation area. Nothing new has been built there for a century. I propose swaddling the whole thing in heavily textured masonry and 300-year-old ivy to cause minimum offence, but I’ve been warned by Eddie about the vocal residents group. We arrange a meeting to find out how to bribe them. Correction, listen to their concerns.

TUESDAY. Design a new £500,000 shortfall for the Royal Institute for the Pop-Uption of British Architects. I’m giving it a distressed, antique feel with flailed underscoring and a pedimented overdraft.

WEDNESDAY. The Coalition has invited me ‘to architecturally metaphorise the Big Society Reboot’.

A split infinitive is the least of their problems. Officer-class millionaires accusing the poor of wallowing in a culture of entitlement is just one adverb away from satire. After some thought I propose the exciting ‘vertical community’ now being created in Europe’s Tallest Building as a ‘workable microcosmological analogy’. Three words, fourteen syllables. That’s London weighting for you.

Big Society Reboot Summary: hurried bleakness at the bottom, opinion-formers and donors at the top, limited room inside, sorry we don’t make the rules.

THURSDAY. Meet the ‘vocal residents’ group’ about my Tamworth microvillage. What a relief. Eddie got it completely wrong, they’re a ‘residents’ vocal group’.

Yes, they wanted us to listen to them. They wanted us to listen to them doing a recital of madrigals, barbershop classics, medieval polyphony and songs from Glee. It’s even worse than the usual nimbyism, to be honest, but we grit our teeth and make it through to the end.

Afterwards everyone shakes hands and looks forward to some well-heeled tenors, many of whom will be setting up home with younger second sopranos.

FRIDAY. A boring, miserable day stuck in an airless room with a group of architects and engineers at a Spatial Awareness Course.

It’s run by the Spatial Constabulary and was offered as an alternative to three points on my designer’s licence. Insurance is steep enough, even though I’m only on ‘third party, fire and breach of intellectual copyright’.

We all sit slumped and sullen as Julie, our bright-faced facilitator, coughs up one platitude after another: ‘When you point the finger of blame, remember. There are always THREE fingers pointing back at YOU’.

The atmosphere is one of wounded innocence. We all have excuses for why we were exceeding spatial limits in a built-up area. The aesthetic controls were malfunctioning. We were overtaking a smaller practice. We were going downhill at the time.

I am more innocent than the others because I have several excuses: I was driving an innovative vehicle of social aspiration, I was unused to both the gearing and the moral suspension, I’d taken a wrong turn stylistically, I had no idea I was spatially accelerating so fast in a residential planning zone.

Julie’s heard it all before. She puts us into groups and gives us stupid bloody exercises to do. We have to estimate the stopping distance for a standard family mansion. ‘Factor in thinking distance and stopping time. You may be in the fast lane, foot down, then suddenly there’s an obstruction. Client’s business goes tits up. A particularly awkward bunch of Green Party campaigners banging on about particulates or lapwings.

‘By the time you’ve gone “ooh, I’d better reduce my space” BOOM. You’ve crashed into a brick wall or worse, a solicitor on a Pashley bike.’

On and on it goes until late afternoon, when I find the nearest pub and cheer myself up with several pints. Driving home – fast, as stayed far too long in pub – I reflect on the day. If I’ve learned anything it’s that when driving a project through a residential planning area, keep it in third gear. The bloody space police are always watching.

SATURDAY. Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. England Architectural 2, Renaissance Italy 4. Penalty shoot-out after goalless draw, enigmatic sketches and disenfranchised civic aspiration.

SUNDAY. Form spatial bump in the recliner.

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