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Ian Martin: The inhabited sculpture park

Ian Martin
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I am delighted to announce the creation of the 1970s Council Estate – an ‘inhabited sculpture park’ curating the very best examples of antique social housing

MONDAY I’m honoured to be creating the ‘look and vibe’ for the next generation of nanoflats squeezed out by compact London homes specialist Ickle Pickle. The emphasis will be on communal living. Shared bathroom and kitchen facilities will adjoin an indoor enclosed courtyard prototype with spacious eco-cupboards nurturing sustainable human life. The overall feel will be ‘ironic workhouse’.

TUESDAY Ickle Pickle love the idea of putting bedrooms in big cupboards and have suggested tagging my prototype ‘The Coolag’.

WEDNESDAY Plans are under way to make next year’s Tamworth Firstival of Architecture the ‘funnest ever’. It will be a showcase for what some people are calling ‘funtemporary’ urban design. As always, that is up to them. But Firstival now represents more than the usual, slightly-pissed veneration of Mercia’s ancient First City. For next year Tamworth stands at the crossroads of history. The countdown to its reinstatement as England’s once, rightful and fun capital city has begun, again. 

Events are being steered by the Tamworth League, a consortium of cultural stakeholders and venture community capitalists of which I am proud to be an honorary member. Today we announce ReCap 2018, a competition among the world’s usurped capital cities to find the most artistically dynamic.

Even at this early stage we’re quietly confident. It’s a smallish, invitation-only field of former capitals: Hebron, Lagos, Scone, Kandahar and Bonn. Obviously we’ve invited ourselves, and indications are we could easily win. The cultural highlights of next year’s Firstival are impressive, and we will obviously take this into account when deciding the winner. 

Also, I really don’t think there’s much chance of eg Hebron becoming the restored capital of eg Palestine in the immediate future, whereas Tamworth’s reinstatement should be wrapped up well before the next Brexit referendum.

THURSDAY One Firstival highlight is a ‘funpole’ which will pop up for a few months to provide a contemporary focus ‘for expressions of communal identity and shared experience’. 

Inevitably, an international design competition has been launched. I haven’t seen the paperwork but I imagine it features plenty of manufactured compound words with  ‘fun’ as a prefix. We’re popping it up at  a busy intersection in the middle of downtown Tamworth. 

At first we assumed there couldn’t possibly be any dancing round the funpole. It would be a traffic hazard, and surely a nightmare getting insurance. Then we looked at entries for a similar pole-based competition at a London site and were impressed at how sophisticated renderings could reduce car ownership to 1910 levels, so it’ll probably be OK.

A more pressing concern is which ‘community’ we’re energising here. Obviously the funpole will transform the public realm, creating a portal of magic realism between international centres of funovation. That goes without saying. But it’s in the middle of Tamworth’s daytime economy, the finance and retail district. The only people there after nine o’clock are homeless.

It would be a bold move to dedicate the funpole to the homeless community, but that would prompt calls to deal with homelessness. The point of Firstival is to celebrate an inclusive future, not to eradicate an entire section of society. 

In the end we decide the funpole will be a focus for the ‘visual community’. If you can see it, you’re ‘one of us’. Surely there is no higher aspiration for the built arts.

FRIDAY Next year Tamworth Firstival won’t be packed away like a travelling fair. There will be legacy. We are delighted to announce the creation of the 1970s Council Estate – an ‘inhabited sculpture park’ curating the very best examples of antique social housing. 

This exciting long-term initiative, in partnership with the John Prescott Foundation for the Preservation of Working Class History in Museums, will turn 300 acres of moorland into an open-air gallery of municipal architecture.

We’ve already acquired a three-storey lump of the condemned Ivanhoe Meadows (The Sinatras, 1972) and a section of the Camden Flares development (Mike and Bernie Pinter, 1976). We’ll bid for archaeological relics from the few remaining council schemes as they become regenerated. 

Politically, the Estate is a rebuke to those who say the days of adequate space standards are over and there’s nothing we can do. Well there is. We shall remember them.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist political blah football. Buttressed Rationalisation 2, Suspended Disbelief 2.

SUNDAY Relax in my Ickle Pickle live-work recliner.

Epic Space, an anthology of Ian Martin’s columns for the AJ, is published by Unbound

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