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Ian Martin: The Woodentops

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin’s grandiose timber dream is toppled

MONDAY It is with a twinge of sadness that I finish the concept drawings for my latest admittedly brilliant block of luxury apartments. 

The design is generically humane enough. But the swish flats are to replace the legendary nightclub Texture, which will soon be demolished. This is regrettable, but as my developer associate Phil Cluster says, you can’t argue with drug deaths. And nightclubs can cause a tragic loss of potential space. 

TUESDAY Good old Phil’s sending more work my way. Luxury investment housing schemes to replace the following: a residential home for the elderly (high death rate, everyone on meds); a pub (alcoholism’s not funny, this isn’t the 1970s, addiction kills) and a children’s playground (the sort of place where a junkie could plausibly die in an ITV drama, or are we saying we don’t care about ordinary people?)

Phil’s right. Compassionate economics is the only economics – or compassion – that really counts. 

WEDNESDAY In the morning, design a multi-sensory agripad. Basically, I’ve converted a modest town flat into a live-in farm by relocating it to the countryside, reducing it to the size of a small caravan and filling it with fecund earth and pricked-out seedlings, making sure to leave room for basic amenities.

In the afternoon, cut and paste a number of agripads to form an off-the-grid, self-sustaining agrivillage where a mixed community can live and work in a linked network of urbrural microcells. In the evening, replicate agrivillages throughout a massive stretch of arable land, squashing live-work agripods even closer together by rethinking the minimum wage-space grid, and voila: ‘New East Anglia’. Large nightcap, bed.

Wake up in the early hours. Absolute panic. I can’t possibly submit any proposal called New East Anglia, it’s nowhere near arch enough. Time for a rethink. I pace the darkness, interrogating my subconscious.

Hmm, so in this new east-coast reality; you can have any zero-hours gig or zero-design pad you like as long as it’s BLEAK? And identical to all the other agrigigs and agripads? Well then, let us call this region FORD ANGLIA. 

My motto: design in wood, be a force for good

THURSDAY A client has asked for a complete overhaul of the proposed timber skycraper I’m designing for a prime site in Australia. Can’t remember which city; it’s the one with lots of blue glass and that nice marina with the Four Seasons hotel.

Irritating. I’d just put the finishing touches to the Nasty Splinter, a contemporary, 80-storey mixed-use tower. Quite apart from the retropunk nickname, it had everything going for it. It was made of wood obviously, which is about as ethical as you can get. Anything wooden is a ‘carbon bank’ these days, from the darling carbon piggy bank of a child’s wooden spinning top to the carbon HSBC of a log‑cabin eco-resort. 

More importantly, the Nasty Splinter brought together traditionalists – ‘see, told you ancient materials are best’ – and headbangers – ‘whoa, it’s massive but it’s made from TREES?’ 

My motto: design in wood, be a force for good. Cross-laminated timber panels, glulam frames, intelligent sawdust insulation, synthesised hardwood ‘foak’ finishes, farmed balsa trim, recycled particulate driftwood arranged in abstract murals. It all had a whizzy, metro feel. The windows in the penthouse level were even made from special ultra-clear sap ‘glass’.

Alas, it’s all gone up in smoke now. Oh, not in a Great Fire of London way. The client – a Chinese app trillionaire who travels everywhere on a golden hoverscooter – remains very keen to develop the site. After all, he has to burn through a billion a day to avoid unspecified financial catastrophe. But, like all super-wealthy dickheads, he is prey to spiritual advisers and fortune tellers, who reckon a wooden tower would ‘be too creaky at the top’. 

Despite zero evidence, these charlatans have persuaded him that the top of my wooden skyscraper in gusty weather would feel like being inside the Mary Rose, just before it sank. 

FRIDAY Grudgingly redo my timber development as a gated medium-rise. Rechristened the S-Clusive, it’s now a stylish wooden cube with its perimeter staked out by a fearsome palisade of sustainably sourced sharpened staves, which is easier said than done. 

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Adumbrated Oblivion 2, Pointless Ascension 2 after penalty melancholia shoot-out.

SUNDAY Trying out a new bamboo and papyrus recliner. It’s not very comfortable but it is very morally upholding.

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