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Ian Martin: Travelling to Megalomania

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin designs a new empire for a mystery client

MONDAY The puritan Brexiteers and the cavalier Remainheads have separately approached me to knock up a last-minute imagineered rendering for ‘England 2030’. It’s a familiar ethical dilemma and I see no reason to deal with it any differently this time. I accept both commissions.

TUESDAY The Future England of Remain is a doddle. Utopia just means thriving businesses. Remain’s scare stuff is about how house prices will suffer if Britain leaves, and their pro-EU argument is basically how great it is being one massive market, with bright people selling things and generic dining for happy mixed-heritage customers. Rendering: England as a 130,000k2 zero-hours Westfield Centre.

The Future England of Leave is more of a ploddle, harder to imagineer. Their scare story is essentially the front page of every Daily Express since 2007, and their positive message seems to be the back page of the Express, but with fewer non-white players in the England team. Rendering: a suburban pub beer garden. It’s raining. Everybody shelters in silence under smoking umbrellas rather than going inside.

WEDNESDAY Working lunch with my fixer Rock Steady Eddie. I say ‘working’, it’s mostly me listening to him shouting at the football on the pub television. And ‘lunch’ is just Businessman’s Pebbledash – a slurry of beer and peanuts.

Eddie’s excited about the recent archaeological discovery of 12th-century cities beneath the jungles of south-east Asia. Oh, I know where this is going and I’m determined to nip it in the bud. No I am not banging out some grotesque slab of gated Battersea bullshit in a ‘fashionable Cambodian Medieval style’ just to cash in.

‘Calm down, dear,’ he says, reasonably. ‘I’m not talking about designing Ye Olde Ping Pong Towers or whatever, though yeah put a pin in that. I’m just saying, cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology is the absolute tits … Look, crystal-clear layouts for these massive great …’ He’s reading from his iPad. ‘… complex urban landscapes connecting medieval temple-cities. Cor. Largest empire on earth, eh? Bosh, I’ll have the same again …’

Trust me, you’re going to be sick of how culturally great this place will be

When I return from the bar, he’s on the phone to his mate ‘Planning Bill in Saudi’ who has connections to certain megalomaniac presidents interested in building a vanity city from scratch. ‘You know, like them nutty geezers in Whateverthefuckistan who move the capital lock stock and barrel to the other end of the country so they can have a triple-sized Docklands named after them …’

Megalomaniacs these days require a ‘package’ – ancient Cambodian blueprint plus contemporary designer with the talent, as Eddie puts it, to create a 21st-century metropolis grounded in tradition but with ‘connectivity and whatnot, airborne 3D printing technology for one example, to become a whatever, world-class opolis, bosh, who fancies an Indian?’

THURSDAY Starting to regret having taken on this Cambodiapolis project. I’ve no idea who the shadowy Ultimate Client is behind it all but he’s certainly not in any of Eddie’s ‘Nutty Stans’.

Planning Bill tells us the vague initial brief is for a new city, ground-breaking early next year, on terrain ‘similar to Nevada’. The overall design ethos will be – and he quotes – ‘smart, tough and vigilant, with so much great taste and amazing culture, you wouldn’t believe. Seriously, trust me, you’re going to be sick of how culturally great this place will be.’

I spend half an hour fitting a cultural collage to the Cambodian blueprint. Leaning Tower of Pisa apartments, double-garage Roman villas, a retail boulevard constructed from a line of mini Eiffel Towers, restaurants based on Famous Churches Of The World. On a hunch, I’ve done a sort of overscaled Albert Speerish city centre. Walled. At its very nub, a Nazi palace.

FRIDAY The mystery client’s gone nuts for my Cambodiapolis. But now I’m presented with an ethical dilemma I’ve actually never faced before. I’m being asked to design a city from which all Muslims are banned ‘until A: we figure out what’s going on. Or B: whenever. Whichever comes soonest.’

Bollocks to that, I’m out. If there’s one thing that makes my blood boil it’s an ignorant prick who uses the superlative instead of the comparative.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Creative Migration 2, Fanciful Stasis 2.

SUNDAY In the recliner, redesigning the national mood. Out with the tired old ‘end of history’ theme, in with a new 1930s feel …

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