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Put on a happy facade

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin takes Marx’s advice and goes for comedy over tragedy

MONDAY I’m working up a 15,000-room Mecca hotel for clients Happy Pilgrim, world leaders in devout leisure development.

The brief asks for ‘something like the palace from Frozen with helipads, but please NO architectural merit, as this may in time confer historical interest and we don’t want any trouble with the sinful idolatry people’. Bosh. Sorted.

TUESDAY Redesign the future, giving everything a smeary-lensed uncertain feel.

We see a vaguely recognisable skyline almost obliterated by expensive wheels, serious prisms, gurning blobs, swaggering rhomboids. Is it a coherent whole? Hmm.

We’re just starting to make sense of it all when a massive opaque prompt box slides down from the sky, inviting us to subscribe to London, to continue being part of the future. We laugh hollowly and turn our horses north. Back to Tamworth, resurgent capital of England, where an alternative future is unrolling with clarity, and with sensible shapes for everything.

WEDNESDAY Let’s have a little perspective please, you carping metropolitan critics. I mean, have you even heard of urban theorist Karl Marx?

Well FYI Marx was like a 19th-century version of Russell Brand. Less hair, more beard. And he said that history repeats itself – first as tragedy, then as farce. In other words EVERYTHING HAS A HAPPY ENDING. So stop moaning about my latest ‘appallingly cynical example of facadism’.

We all agree the Art Deco cinema that occupied the site for decades was a fine building. It had a good long run as a historic landmark, but by the 1980s had been scooped out and repurposed as a discount carpet warehouse. OK, that  WAS a tragedy. Now though, my ‘affordable luxury’ housing scheme has brought a little jollity back to this difficult corner site. Most of the old cinema/carpet emporium has been pulverised to make way for a ferocious, brooding lump of investable landlord chic. Like some Gothic hero, my residential block is untameable, vigorously exploiting the absence of any planning control. That’s why it looks so virile and handsome and perhaps a little frightening.

But in a stroke of genius I’ve put a little fascinator on the block, to ‘feminise’ the massing and lift the spirits. A melancholy section of the cinema’s facade – windows and doors now blank, but with some marvellous Aztec-Jazztec terracotta flappers, sunbursts and whatnot – has been retained. I admit that the windows of the affordable luxury megablock behind don’t line up (you can’t have everything; don’t be babies) and it all looks a bit absurd. Good.

‘Farcical’ is it? ‘Laughable’ is it? Job done. Replacing tragedy with comedy in an urban streetscape = happy ending. Carping metropolitan critics, have a word with yourselves.

THURSDAY Lunch with my old friend Darcy the epic space correspondent and his trembling architectural dachshund Bauhau.

Always on trend, Darcy now regards himself as an honorary Scot. He and Bauhau wear matching kilts and tam o’ shanters. It’s difficult to know who looks stupider although maybe a Londoner might think Bauhau’s outfit the more authentic as he isn’t wearing a shirt. They’re both very excited today. Darcy’s planning his itinerary for next year’s Scottish Festival o’ Architecture and Bauhau’s harrowing a plush toy under the table.

The festival organisers certainly don’t lack ambition. The celebration of Scottish architecture lasts all year, and they’ve already commandeered Cumbria for overflow parking. Darcy’s go-to list so far:

  • A crazy golf tournament with the ‘holes’ miniature versions of great Scottish buildings and the participants dressed like wankers.
  • A 1:1 Minecraft version of Scotland, geographically separated from reality.
  • ‘Legocy’ Workshop, an intensive weekend at St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Architects are invited to create a long-term legacy recognising the social and economic benefits of architecture using Lego bricks and rhetoric only. Cash prizes and a disco afterwards.
  • Bagpipe drones above Hadrian’s Wall.
  • Heavy drinking.

FRIDAY A sad day. To the funeral of pop-up pioneer Bradley Pop-Up, who changed his name by deed poll and went a step further by creating a pop-up office around his converted ride-on lawnmower, an experiment in ‘peripoptetic’ practice which ended badly when he drifted off Hoxton Square into traffic.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist trope football. Envelope Pushing 0, Envelope Taking 1, after solemn acceptance of cultural diversity.

SUNDAY Follow Scotland’s lead by asserting my independence, remaining in psychogeographical suspension above England all day in the recliner.

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