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Ian Martin: Brexitioning to a new built enpopment

Ian Martin

Ian Martin considers ‘public space’ and redesigns the public instead

MONDAY Why do things seem to move so slowly now we’re in the future?

A bricklaying robot can construct a house in 40 hours. You can three-dimensionally print a perfect facsimile of Jacobean choir stalls in a weekend. Stock market transactions happen in a fraction of a second. So how come it still takes a fortnight to launder £100m in Brazilian bribes via a shell company into landmark commercial property in the City of London, showcasing some of the most exciting architectural talent in the world?

My fixer Rock Steady Eddie and I remember the 1980s. It took a fortnight THEN to convert £100m in Brazilian bribes into top metropolitan design quality. Have we not progressed at all in three decades? Poor.

TUESDAY Meanwhile ‘Rock Brexit Eddie’ as he’s styling himself this week has dragged me to a boring conference on the outlook for post-European construction.

He’s convinced that every cloud (the repositioning of Britain as a tiny island full of hateful bastards) has a silver lining (unspecified commercial opportunities springing from a ‘single black market’).

Apparently British architects, auteurs, artists and everyone else at the top of the alphabet ‘will continue to have access to Europe the PLACE obviously, it’s not like Italy or the Balearics are going anywhere, that’s basic geography…’ He seems very confident. He ought to do conference presentations.

‘Europe is still very much open for business. It’s just that everything’s a bit more discreet and under the counter and in some respects not entirely kosher, like that all-day breakfast bun of yours, which is my point. It’s there, so why not have a bite oh, you sure you don’t want it back?’

The conference is called Brexitioning To A New Reality. It has sessions called things like De-Risking Delivery and Finding The Gap and Weaponising Your Business Tools. I’ve never seen so many faces that look like emoticons, reflecting the four basic public moods here: smugly beaming, extravagantly relaxed, crying with laughter at the feebleness of others, evil.

It’s lunchtime before I’ve twigged that the conference itself is a front and that the real deals are being done over coffee and biscuits. I find myself a human shield in a conversation between Eddie and someone who describes himself as a ‘Brazilian humanitarian and philanthropist’. Something about putting design quality at the heart of the procurement process, although I’ll be honest it sounds like the design quality will be in cash.

WEDNESDAY Design a floating pavilion for a university campus lake. The brief calls for ‘a space where tertiary education clients may let off steam by venting their aggression towards perceived hostility but also a space where users can retreat from a non-compliant world and pretend it doesn’t exist’. I’ve gone for a hyperbolic paranoid canopy above a simple self-inflatable deck.

THURSDAY To the Institute for Plasmic Arts for an exhibition of suburban housing of the 1970s, Delusions of Blandeur. Underwhelming.

FRIDAY Very disappointed with the public reaction to a pop-up installation of mine. The whole point was to stimulate the revitalisation of underused areas of public space by encouraging the public to take ownership of those spaces and decide on their future use.

Obviously the way to jump-start this shake-up into a step-change is through casual socialising and interaction. Strangers come together serendipitously within my installation (title: ‘Beware Splinters?’) and find common purpose. What would they like this public space to BE? How might that cluster of noodle shacks, wrap kiosks, and vegan yurts (for example) be caused to pop up?

Alas, the public have let themselves down. They’ve let me down. Most importantly they’ve let the built enpopment down. So-called ‘people’ seem determined to avoid my installation by walking around it rather than through it, pausing occasionally to bark unhelpful nonsense such as ‘Who’s just dumped all those builder’s pallets there? It’s a disgrace. Call me old-fashioned but people like that want gassing…’

Lesson learned. Next time I’ll simply ignore the imaginable space and instead design a ‘pop-up public’ – people perhaps with a lively interest in their surroundings, who can perceive ingenuity and beauty – as a way of exploring how the existing, underused public might be energised into something useful for a bloody change.

SATURDAY Five-a-spitegeist architectural blame football. Wider Passengers 1, Older Occupants 2.

SUNDAY Thought laundering in the recliner.

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