Bill’s passing makes the world of architecture seem a lesser place, says Paul Finch
Of those who have died during the coronavirus crisis, the most personal for me was Bill Menking, co-founder of The Architect’s Newspaper in the USA. Actually, he died of a long-term illness, rather than the virus but, currently, deaths seem somehow to merge.
Meetings with Bill were, for this Londoner, as likely to be in any city other than the two we mainly inhabited. Hanging out in Los Angeles during the AIA Convention meant visiting the indoor Mexican meat market and checking out the (then) unloved downtown buildings, whose origins and architects Bill could describe in detail. Checking out his temporary Malibu residence was a delight. Needless to say, we had the services of a chauffeured limo.
Las Vegas, also the location for a memorable AIA Convention, was the occasion for Bill’s renewal of wedding vows (as it turned out optimism trumped reality) with AN’s co-founder Mrs Bill Menking, better known as Diana Darling (cue Hello Darling jokes). The event took place in the Little White Chapel, which had recently hosted the marriage of Britney Spears. I should say I am not making this up; my role that evening was to supervise the photography and make sure the two happy couples (the other being friends of Bill and Diana, also renewing) looked the part for the snapper. I suggested everyone shouted architrave as the shutter snapped. It seemed to have the desired effect.
In Miami for a World Architecture Festival reconnaissance trip, Jeremy Melvin and I had the pleasure of meeting Bill, by coincidence in town at the same time, and benefiting from his reminiscences of working as art director on the TV series Miami Vice – we visited the building where he had an apartment during the making of the series – and introductions to his impeccable contacts.
In Venice for the Biennale, Bill always seemed at home. Somehow splendidly informed about who was doing what and which shows to visit or avoid, he was the brilliant convivial companion who made the Biennale, and life, seem easy.
We will be forever grateful for the support he gave us when we launched World Architecture Festival
We will be forever grateful for the support he and The Architect’s Newspaper gave us when we launched World Architecture Festival in 2008, which began we with a reception in NYC organised by Bill, where David Adjaye gave a welcome speech. A frequent judge in locations including Barcelona, Singapore and Berlin, Bill’s presence and support was a kind of imprimatur for us.
Following so soon after the death of Michael Sorkin, also a great WAF supporter, Bill’s passing makes NYC seem a lesser place. It will of course revive, as both would have wanted, but it won’t be the same.
Begging bowl syndrome is an embarrassment
We all wake up to the sound of the Today programme barking up the wrong tree, wondering who will be the most irritating interrupter (usually Nick Robinson), who will ask the longest and most unnecessarily convoluted question (usually Justin Webb), and who will ask a question which cannot possibly be properly answered before they deliver that dread phrase ‘I’m sorry we have run out of time’ (Mishal Husain or Sarah Smith).
In almost all cases, the programme and interviewers are, metaphorically, shouting ‘Don’t panic!’ at the top of their voices. As often as not, the organisations quoted or invited to take part in the programme are there to launch a demand for public funding, without which the world as we know it will come to a grinding halt, or rather that is what they claim.
Inoculated against this sort of propaganda, I managed to resist immediately sending a cheque when I read the AJ’s online headline earlier this week: ’Britain could become a cultural wasteland due to pandemic, top names warn’. The story contained the usual begging letter which, frankly, is embarrassing.
Taxpayer funding does not of itself create cultural oases or cultural wastelands. It is more complex than that; the urge of the simple-minded to suckle on the meagre teat of the Department of Culture seems oblivious to the worlds of Shakespeare, Keats, Byron and Wordsworth. How did they manage it without state subsidies?