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Ian Martin: The Shard has fallen

Ian Martin
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Permanently enraged ecomentalist Amy Blackwater is destroying the Shard from the inside out

MONDAY Outraged to read that PFI companies have made pre-tax profits of £831m in the last six years through NHS contracts, as I was assured it would be kept quiet.

My own modest contribution to the ‘new wavethrough’ of hospital building – prototype neurology ward inspired by 1970s Albanian detention centre – is facing enough criticism as it is. ‘Toilet doorways too narrow for walking frames’. ‘Consultant interrogation rooms cramped and intimidating’. ‘No windows’. On and on the moaning goes, despite the pitch price being roughly a third of the next lowest tender.

I wish the media would occasionally acknowledge the real victims here. Just stop pulling at all those Twitter threads and let people get on with their pre-taxable jobs.

TUESDAY To the Royal Institute for the Pop-Uption of British Architecture and the investiture of its new president, the Earl of Glossop. He looks fearsome and commanding in the traditional Djellaba of Truth, the gold Chain of Commodity and the Spectacles of Vision. Thrillingly, it’s time for radical change. ‘For too long,’ he intones over the hypnotic beat of antique bongo drums, ‘we have sought to put design quality at the heart of the procurement process. From this day forward, we shall seek to put QUALITY DESIGN at the heart of the procurement process!’

The crowd goes mad, as it has, incrementally, since 1834.

WEDNESDAY Visiting my old friend Amy Blackwater, the permanently enraged ecomentalist. 

She looks the same as ever in her trademark balaclava and wheelchair, but her new squat is unbelievably swish. It’s certainly an improvement on that communal shithole she used to live in, lashed up from scaffolding poles and tarpaulin in the middle of an Essex forest. Now we’re gazing down at London from a £50m hyperlux apartment on the 60th floor of the Shard. Incredibly, Amy and her raggle-taggle entourage of urban trespassers, anarchists, graffiti poets, hacker grrrls, vegetable liberationists, ethical blaggers, crusty jugglers, polyvalent amorists, universal spiritual jointers and goth bitcoiners have moved into Britain’s most famous symbol of tumour capitalism.

And now they’re in, nobody dares get them out. Certainly not the owners – all those minor royals and assorted soft playboys of the eastern world have reputations to protect. They’d much rather everyone think these vacant, pornhubbed treehouses remain embarrasingly unsold than find out the truth. Which is that they have been effortlessly colonised by what looks like an experimental dance troupe from an early Derek Jarman film.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Amy so happy. She’s living the dream. Destroying the Shard from the inside out. By February, she predicts, the owners will be told by building surveyors that the top third of the building has been dangerously softened by mysterious chemical agents administered by saboteurs, and that it must be removed before it droops and falls. Yes, Amy and her associates have done more in the cause of a controlled London skyline in the last few months than all the building professions put together. 

Meanwhile Amy and co have established a parallel ‘dark network’ within the building, finding common cause with mischievous, recently unionised minions. First name terms with the security guys, come and go as they please. They order vegan food in from the poncey restaurants and put it on some Qatari prince’s tab. A crèche has appeared on one of the top storeys. A homeless shelter is being fashioned in a cargo lift. Next week a newsagent’s and tobacconist shop opens on the 58th floor. There’s talk of a community primary school and an inter-floor football derby. Life is sweet. And for the first time at least part of this preposterous stalagmite is starting to feel like a ‘vertical city’.

THURSDAY In the morning, convert a disused factory shed in Milton Keynes to the usual clump of spartan offices for digital media start-ups. In the afternoon, upgrade the project by making the shed ‘Brutalist’ and saying it will be ‘creatively re-purposed’.

FRIDAY Further upgrade the project by calling it an ‘arts hub’. Nail it with a rendering of a woman in the middle of one of the hub spaces gazing serenely out of a window, wearing a funny hat.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist war of the worlds arch-itectural football. Mar-a-Lego The Movie 1, Pyongyang Minecraft 1 after mutually assured extra time. 

SUNDAY Convert my ‘vertical sitting’ into a ‘horizontal state’ in the recliner.

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


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