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Ian Martin: Knock it down! Knock it down!

Ian Martin
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We smash and smash and smash that bloody monstrosity into pink dust!

MONDAY ‘I hope you’re happy now,’ mutters Dusty Penhaligon the conservactionist. We’re in our favourite architectural pub the Gherkin and Firkin. I’m enjoying something spritzy. He’s nursing a pint of dark bitter.

Actually I AM happy I tell him, smugly. That great Post-Modern pretend masterpiece the ‘Stripey Turducken’ has been listed Grade II*. For me it is a vindication, a moral triumph. But for Dusty it is a travesty and a moral outrage.

We’ve always had a difference of opinion on this matter. Back in the late 80s, megalomaniac playboy developer Colin Savundra horrified Victorianists by announcing he would demolish the exquisite neo-gothic Gubbins & Mogg building near Mansion House. Nostalgia was commendable, he argued drily, but only if it was for 1960s Manhattan. Savundra’s dream was to erect a dully gleaming black box recorder designed in ‘the Sinisternational Style’ by late Modernist autocrat Werner von Schlechtliebe.

Enter the Prince of Wales with his army of old money and young fogeys, including a passionate, mulleted Dusty. Savundra was defeated, leaving him boiling with rage and revenge. If the establishment denied him his Schlechtliebe he would dump something else there instead. Yes, something a bit … bollocks, just to show them. That’s where I came in, part of a design team assembled by Savundra to create ‘an unequivocal warning beacon that says do not ever fuck with me again’.

So we all worked up bits of the Turducken, putting in scholarly references ironically, as one did then. I designed a whole leg (Roman elements but – honk honk – upside down!) in a single afternoon. Terry Greenspecks I remember did a Turducken wing, sort of Aztec-y? Dear old Sir Jimmy Drumsimmons of course was responsible for the famous ‘parson’s nose but at the front’. It was all a big two fingers – we DARED anyone to admire this dog’s breakfast. Now, like so many old jokes, it has turned into a ‘classic’ and regularly appears on television when celebrities are talking about the 1990s, or London, or ennui.

Let’s face it, when all this was going on everyone was on drugs, weren’t they?

You have to admire Dusty’s perseverence, though. His twin inspirations at the moment are a) that developer ordered to rebuild the pub he demolished, and b) those anti-doping agencies managing to overturn past Olympic results. ‘Let’s face it, when all this was going on everyone was on drugs, weren’t they? So the stupid Turducken should be disqualified on the grounds of cannabis and cocaine. Then we could get the lovely, vanished Gubbins & Mogg building reclassified as Grade 1. Then, restorative justice. We smash and smash and smash that bloody monstrosity into pink dust! Rebuild the Gubbins & Mogg shell, note-perfect! Put what you like inside it, who gives a toss? The Turd must die! Knock! It! Down! Knock! It! Down!’

The pub falls silent for a moment then, one by one, everyone takes up the chant. ‘Knock it down! Knock it down!’ Dusty stands on the table, Lord Knockitdown. This is a new and disturbing turn of events.

TUESDAY After his appearance on breakfast TV – smashing up a cake model of the Turducken with a frying pan ‘to show how easy it would be’ – Dusty’s now the acceptable face of aggressive restoration. He’s gone viral, tapped into some sort of faddish nihilism.

His approach has a superficial appeal. Easy for him to advocate that we start again with our urban landscapes and ‘pulverise everything that’s worse than what was there before, come ON, why NOT?’ Too easy. Oh, God.

WEDNESDAY The Keynesians and the unions are WELL up for a smash-and-reset economy. So are construction shareholders and Tory donors. Wow, Dusty’s got Momentum AND the non-doms.

THURSDAY Panic setting in now among 20th century fetishists. Buildings once vigorously opposed on the grounds that they would destroy important landmarks have suddenly become a cherished inheritance at risk.

FRIDAY ‘Hold up,’ says my fixer Rock Steady Eddie. ‘If shit buildings get better just because they get older, why isn’t listing part of whatever, planning permission?’

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist annual heritage accumulator playoffs. Old Familiar Turducken 20, Replacement Gubbins & Mogg Building 0.

SUNDAY Great hatchet/frying pan job in the Creative on Sunday on Dusty and the rise and fall of the Knock It Down movement, by ‘architectural commentator’ Bauhau the dachshund.

I leave a snarky below-the-line comment saying how much I miss his predecessor Sausage, the Tibetan terrier.

Illustration by Hanna Melin


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