For more than a quarter of a century, Ian Martin has written a weekly satirical column in the architectural press. His first column appeared in the Architects' Journal in 1990. Its theme was the cultural significance of the boozy lunch.
Although the column started life as a sarcastic in-house joke for architects, it has blossomed over the years into a surreal take on contemporary culture. As Martin sharpened his writing skill on shows such as Time Trumpet, The Thick of It and Veep (for which he won an Emmy in 2015) so the column reached out to a more general audience. Weird and hilarious, it now has an enthusiastic cult following.
Epic Space is an anthology of the best columns of recent years. Each week is written in diary form, describing the working life of an amoral consultant with powerful friends, incuding members of the Cabinet and HRH the Prince of Wales. Its world is a woozy version of our own. But one in which Martin and his friend, the nanofuturologist Beansy, can invent Kryptogel – a new building material developed using ‘hard air’.
In this mad world, the property wing of the Church of England builds buy-to-let almshouses while ‘bouncy mega-mosques’ have helium-stiffened minarets. There’s a proposal for a 1:1 map of the whole world. An arts correspondent is sacked by a Sunday newspaper and replaced with his own overdressed architectural dachshund. Soot becomes a valuable stock market commodity. A hipster skyscraper is called the Blard. A massive analogue underground Cotswolds is mooted. An ambitious plan is hatched to ‘turn the North around’ so that it faces south. Big questions are asked: Is Texture The New Fragrance? Is Modern Modernism Just Post-Modernism But With A Neo-Modernistic Coat On? How Fat Is Your Faceprint?
And reassuringly, there are still plenty of boozy lunches.
Zeppelins Full Of Shit
MONDAY. What a terrible start to the week. I’m being sued by a client who accuses me of ‘false narrative accounting’.
The job was a modest pedestrian bridge at a suburban railway station. I’m not allowed to say which one (superinjunction) but the scheme sailed through planning, thanks to a very persuasive written and visual presentation.
Unfortunately it is this very presentation that forms the basis of my clients’ case.
Exhibit A : the rendering. I decided to use a slightly disturbing and surreal watercolour painting of the project, with lots of ‘blending’ and ‘splodging’. The client inspected the bridge shortly after completion and found it ‘completely unsmudged and not in the least surreal. Passenger traffic was non-amorphous, with totally clear edges to everything’.
Exhibit B: the design statement. I said the lighting would ‘weave a spell of weird psycho-illuminescent magic at night, making the bridge deck appear to levitate’. The client went back in the evening and found it ‘looking very much where it was in daylight. I thought perhaps I was not in the right mood so, after a couple of stiff ones in a nearby hostelry, I returned. The bridge deck still looked perfectly embodied, even when I squinted’.
Worse, my artistic licence expired in February.
TUESDAY. Chelsea Flower Show. My hippy gardener friend Isis has won the Morally Urban Greening Prize for her provocative piece, ‘Reversal’.
She’s rebuilt a small terraced house, left the roof off and converted it into a lush, succulent, multi-layered, polyvalent mega-organism. ‘Reversal’ brings together stacked vegetable gardens, hydroponic sliding doors, a miniature energy orchard, a suspended waterfall, predictive composting and an insect ziggurat.
The back yard contains a small family shed. The idea, says Isis, is to ‘lower humanity’s expectations in line with our feelings of shame and self-loathing. We should no longer consider ourselves temporary curators of Earth’s Bounty, but janitors. It is time we knew our place, which is in the shed’.
WEDNESDAY. Lunch with my old mate Beansy the mad futurologist. He’s desperate to be on the Creative on Sunday’s Cool List, an annual audit of 50 startled-looking people in jeans who’ve had brilliant, world-changing ideas.
‘I need something clever yet simple’ he says. ‘Clockwork radio. Water purifiers. A decent garlic press. Something step-changey, game-changey, yeah? Like with the Inca civilisation. Once they started using llama shit as a high-altitude fertiliser boom, they were off’. I tell Beansy the world’s still waiting for a globalised solution to HUMAN waste.
Of course, Beansy has one. ‘Just cart it all over to say a) the Sahara or b) the South Pole. Carry on dumping it there, chuck in millions of seeds, loads of Dettol round the outside, let’s keep things civilised. In next to no time you’ve got a) Brazil 2.0 or b) probably a frozen mountain of human shit which, OK, is a hostage to fortune with global warming so let’s say a) to be on the safe side…’
I’m obliged to point out that visionary mentals have always banged on about fertilising the desert. That, and desalinating the Caspian Sea and turning it into a massive salmon farm. He’s not listening. ‘Now you can’t really send millions of tonnes of sewage by road. Or by sea. Wait. Zeppelins! Bloody great architect-designed airships, full of shit! Zeppelins, man!’
I don’t know. I can’t see Brazil 2.0 in the Sahara being a runner, but then I think there’s something distinctly off-putting about a big balloon full of human 2.0 heading anywhere.
THURSDAY. Brainstorming with Beansy, trying to work up a prototype Hindenturd.
It suddenly occurs that he might be able to help with the false narrative charges. I mean, if a way were found to retrofit the railway station with smudged ambience and a levitating bridge we could keep all this out of the courts.
FRIDAY. To Superinjunction Junction. Beansy’s brought his molecule distresser. It looks like a portable cropsprayer, not very convincing, but a few squirts high into the air produces a fine, static mist that makes everything ‘run’ in a satisfyingly painty way.
Floating the bridge free from reality has got us stumped, though. Hypnosis looks like the only option. We’ll wait for nightfall, then try some mind-control on passengers.
SATURDAY. Beansy and I released without charge after questioning.
SUNDAY. Lateral thinking in the recliner, then everything goes watercoloured. I dream of aerial armadas.
June 2, 2011
I have been advised by Unbound that now might be a good time to “do a shed post” as the brilliant Moose Allain has produced a lovely poster for one of my pledge levels. This tediously lengthening paragraph is, technically, a way of persuading people to “upgrade their pledge levels” or to “spread the word”.
I mean, I could urge people to tell other people to pledge for Epic Space and…
Brutal, uninformed criticism is nothing new. These extracts from the diaries of 17th Century commentators show how resistant we can be to new architectural forms. Thanks to Paul Martin for the illustrations.
Sir Robert Aubrey
Upon seeing this Heathen Monstrositie I fell to Violent Trembling, seeking release in 2 bottles Claret and 1 of Sack. It made me incline to vomit after 1 houre…
Welcome to my shed. Thank you so much for pledging. Although my architecture columns have never been intellectually load-bearing, they have been very important to me. For 26 years now I’ve been banging them out every week. I’m really chuffed about this Unbound compilation of some of the really good ones.
I’m supposed to entertain you privately here, in my shed, which feels a bit fucking creepy…
These people are helping to fund Epic Space.