Ian Martin witnesses a generational clash over London’s skyline
MONDAY Rethink the concept of ‘workplace’ by putting a hyphen in the middle. Work-place. Lovely. It separates the compound noun into two independent ideas, or ‘design challenges’ as we call them nowadays. Also, ‘work-place’ has a cheerful, whistling nostalgia about it. If you squint a bit it could almost be a vintage steam locomotive coupled to its tender. Workplace as a single word now looks utterly humdrum and stupid. Death to irritating modern compound words. I disdain their ugliness, and their ubiquity.
TUESDAY Create a sort of ‘buffer day’. Early lunch, nap, some first-draft mosaics for the Crossrail public engagement guys, a few furnishing ideas for a private landlord determined to show that ‘nothing is too good for my tenants’.
I just hope I’ve done enough to pre-distance myself from any opportunistic charges of hypocrisy.
WEDNESDAY Morning: design a retrofuturistic ‘technopark’ in Glasgow. Afternoon: design a vast, repetitive ‘discopolis’ in northern China. Evening: design a modest, old school ‘hip hopspice’ in Bedfordshire.
In contrast to his father’s air of baffled urbanity, Neave radiates a buccaneering heartlessness
THURSDAY Lunch with the hon Aeneas Upmother-Brown, minister for luxury housing, architecture and privatised space. He’s crosser than his pet swarm of bees. They circle his head, a buzzing halo of winged gravitas. Poor U-B’s moral probity has been called into question once again. It’s his own fault. For a year he’s been telling everyone that London’s latest crop of forced skyscraper rhubarb is brilliant and that there’s nothing to worry about. This seemed a little counter-intuitive to be honest as apart from jazz architecturalist Big Will Self and his King’s Place Sycophants, everyone thinks these new buildings are extruded bollocks.
Now scepticism and outrage have greeted the publication of It’s High Time, a report from the Aerial Geographical Institute, which examined the effect on Londoners’ mental welfare of a skyline bristling with whatever takes the fancy of sadistic developers. Summary: absolutely nothing to worry about.
‘For some time,’ says their statement, ‘there has been a widespread view in the media that skyscrapers have a detrimental impact on “urban character”, whatever that is. We have found that it simply doesn’t, and we hope that’s an end to the matter…’ The AGI keeps telling us, wearily, that it is an entirely independent institute. A total coincidence then that its directors all have dads in the cabinet.
I have massive sympathy for dear Upmother-Brown, and great fondness for his bees, who have always been warm and solicitous towards me. I am much less keen on his son Neave, director of the Aerial Geographical Institute, who is a nasty piece of work. He and a rough little gang of wasps join us for pudding. ‘Hey, they’re not MINE, bitch, they’re just WITH me,’ drawls Neave, as one of them stings a waitress and another ‘accidentally’ barges violently into Golden Bobby, one of U-B’s oldest and most dignified bees. The rest of the swarm are scandalised, but Neave couldn’t give a toss.
In contrast to his father’s air of baffled urbanity, Neave radiates a buccaneering heartlessness. This earns him a lot of respect in the boardrooms of Docklands and in Nanny’s Pantry, the exclusive spanking-themed supper club deep beneath Parliament Square. Neave insists there’s no conflict of interest in being a highly paid consultant to the government on tall buildings while also running a property company with his brother Nils, ruthlessly exploiting offshore tax loopholes.
The trust fund set up for Upmother-Brown’s Boys while they were still at prep school has been weaponised into a fearsome development machine. They recently bought some old Ministry of Defence land at mate’s rates, got a highly regarded designer to work up a Palladian-style ‘media ranch’ and then sold the plot on for £143 million, paying a total of 67p tax.
U-B remonstrates with Neave, furious that he’s got him into trouble again. The bees and wasps mingle in a state of high tension. I make my excuses and leave before Neave blurts out who the off-book media ranch designer was.
FRIDAY Rebadge ‘Britain’s Urban Realm’, making it less patrician by calling it Britain’s Urban Talent Platform, and more egalitarian by handing overall design control to shops so that everywhere looks generically shit.
SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Real Communities Living Vertically 0, Fictional Architects Thinking Laterally 0. Match abandoned after both teams found to be counterfeit.
SUNDAY Create ‘hangspace’ by installing self in hammock.