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A funny thing happened to me at the Ukrainian Design Awards

Paul Finch
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Following the election of a comedian as Ukraine’s president, Paul Finch recalls his visit to the country as a judge and tombola operator

The election of a comedian to the presidency of Ukraine is no laughing matter, as Bob Monkhouse might have said. By contrast, my last visit there – before the Russian non-invasion – was a very cheery one. I had been invited to chair the European judges for the inaugural Ukrainian Design Awards, to be conducted via Skype from a hotel at Gatwick the afternoon before the awards ceremony took place in Kiev.

It turned out that I was, in fact, the only European judge, my contribution being to swap thoughts with the Ukrainian judges based on some rather inadequate images of the competing entries. Oh well, it was the first time they had organised the awards, so you go with the flow.

An early flight the next morning landed at noon local time in a rather swanky airport, where one of the sponsors and I were met by an extremely glamorous awards assistant, who whisked us in an even more glamorous sports car to register at our hotel – then took us immediately to the awards ceremony, which had already started in the flamboyant 1901 Kiev Opera House.

Kiev opera house shutterstock 76203214

Kiev opera house shutterstock 76203214

It wasn’t entirely clear when I was supposed to address the very lively designer crowd, some looking super-cool in street fashion, other dressed formally and/or extravagantly, as though they were at a wedding party. I was eventually more or less pushed on stage with instructions to ‘just say something encouraging’, which I duly did.

However, the highlight of my brief appearance was to conclude proceedings by cranking the handle of a tombola machine, which held tickets distributed to everyone attending the event. The crowd became enthusiastic when I plunged my hand into the machine and gave the tickets a good rummage, which suggested to my mind a certain level of suspicion about the way these things were normally conducted.

The winning ticket belonged to a designer who had failed in the awards, but turned out to be the day’s biggest winner: the prize was a brand-new Citroën saloon, waiting outside the entrance to the Opera, wrapped in a gigantic ribbon. He could scarcely believe his luck. General celebrations then ensued at an extremely generous party, where the measures used for the pouring of excellent spirits had to be seen to be believed, and where barbecued food was plentiful and delicious.

When the Russians moved in, I couldn’t help thinking about the enforced starvation of the Ukrainians by Stalin, the evil old monster, in the 1930s. Whatever problems the country may have now, things have been worse.

Apparently, size is everything

I have been wondering about the implications of paragraph 3.4.2 in the Design section of the draft London Plan. The plan sets out minimum space standards which, says the paragraph, ‘applicants are encouraged to exceed’. So far so good, but then: ‘However, due to the level of housing need and the requirement to make the best use of land, boroughs are encouraged to resist dwellings with floor areas significantly above those set out in Table 3.1 as they do not constitute an efficient use of land.’ (Bold type is used in the report).

This seems rather extraordinary since it suggests that the only way people can expect to live in a dwelling with generous dimensions is to buy or rent anything except what is currently being built. A good example of minima becoming maxima – via the stroke of a pen.

More encouragingly, the document is very strong on the problems associated with single-aspect dwellings, spelling out when they should not be permitted. Currently, too many clients are trying it on, forcing their architects to produce units they would never inhabit themselves. This is by no means restricted to office-to-resi conversions.

Macron’s Notre-Dame pledge is a tall order

President Macron wants something built at Notre-Dame in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics. This is a tall order, but perhaps the international competition to replace what has been lost will generate lateral thinking. One idea would be to create a spire with a stand-alone structure in time for the Games, with other elements added at an appropriate pace later on. Let’s hope the brief is suitably loose.

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