Ian Martin is an Emmy award-winning comedy writer who has been part of the architectural writing establishment since, it feels, time immemorial (which, in this case, is 1990). His satirical column in the British weekly Architects' Journal provides a spread that every reader looks forward to and now, after accumulating over a quarter of a century's writing, is crowdfunding to compile a compendium entitled Epic Space.
Featuring a selection of the best columns of recent years, each essay is written in diary form, "describing the working life of an amoral consultant with powerful friends, including members of the Cabinet and HRH the Prince of Wales." It is, according to Martin, "a woozy version of our own world – but one in which Martin and his friend, the nanofuturologist Beansy, can invent Kryptogel, a new building material developed using ‘hard air’."
"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."
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?
The following two extracts from the forthcoming anthology are from June 2nd, 2011 and April 3rd, 2015 respectively. You can pledge your support for Epic Space here.
That's a great quote. Oh wait, ahahaha, It's MINE. Oh man, I'm so adorable I might even pledge to MYSELF. https://t.co/p87echAR1M— Ian Martin (@IanMartin) January 5, 2016
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.
History Eats Itself
MONDAY. Being an auteur of epic space isn’t always easy. You have to take the rough with the smooth. And sometimes you have to bring together the very rough (my fixer Rock Steady Eddie) and the very smooth (my friend Darcy Farquear’say the architecture critic and his overdressed dachshund Bauhau).
Darcy and I have thought of a pop-up idea so exquisite it’s a kind of mental torture. Post-Shoreditch. Just far enough ahead of the curve to be showing its arse to the hipster peloton.
This idea is SO good, we need to get it into development asafp, before another pair of slightly drunk acquaintances with a dog in a little hat come up with it too. If we’re to succeed we need Eddie’s fast-track mind, business acumen and underworld contacts.
TUESDAY. ‘Is it a bitch?’ asks Eddie, squinting hard at Bauhau and helping himself to another of Darcy’s offal-and-rhubarb nibbles.
Eddie’s out of his comfort zone. We’re in this week’s most chictastic restaurant, an ephemeral dining experience created in a dilapidated Brighton drill hall, called SHOLDER. The twist is, the food’s done by an ageing Young British Artist and the décor’s by a 1970s TV chef. Also, Bauhau’s wearing leopard print hotpants and salmon-pink bootees.
‘A bitch?’ Darcy gasps athsmatically. ‘Bauhau’s utterly a boy dog, thank you very much’. Eddie looks impressed. ‘Well he’s come to the right place innit. Brighton? Full of ‘em. Waitress! Another go of them kidney phings and two more poofs’ cocktails for my paedo friends. Get us a lager top, I’m spitting feathers here. Whoa. I’m not being offensive love, but are you Asian? I know a lot of trannies are…’
I get Eddie off the premises while Darcy stays to be horrified for all of us.
WEDNESDAY. Every cloud. Eddie blamed his disgusting rainbow of phobias on some bad gear he’d had, apologised to everyone and in his humility has pitched our project to Irish Connie, London’s pop-up queenpin, who apparently will ‘bite our hands off’. He feints a biting motion and barks at Bauhau, who reacts adorably by soiling his hotpants.
THURSDAY. Send our outline proposal to Irish Connie. It’s a pop-up restaurant combining the two things we secretly miss most about the twentieth century: the Cold War and tinned food.
Imagine a basement diner done out like a 1980s nuclear bunker, with TINNED ITEMS ONLY on the menu. It’s as if everything really DID go tits up after Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s second single.
Staff in radiation suits and masks. Brutalist tables and chairs. Stencilled signage in Impact Bold. Rough concrete. Behind a long, heavy glass wall, a slow conveyer belt full of tinned food. You relay your dinner order via military walkie-talkie to anonymous ‘lab assistants’. With massive gauntlets and long grippers they assemble your nuclear dinner for preparation in the Heating Area.
People will love this. Think about those immersive film nights, where they pay a fortune to dress as an extra on the set of Fight Club or Shawshank Redemption, queuing up for a beating or a difficult trip through a sewer. How much more stylish to be eating food from tins and pretending you’re in a BBC Play For Today.
Eddie, Darcy and I are simultaneously excited and ravenous. Bauhau just barks excitedly, I suppose that’s his job. ‘Oh yes darling, there’ll be tinned dog food too!’ coos Darcy.
I point out that as it’s a nuclear bunker pets must be left outside to die. Eddie cackles. Darcy bristles. Bauhau remains enigmatically stupid.
FRIDAY. Thumbs up from Irish Connie. Backing secured! More good news - another of those deeply cherished live music venues that make London so very special has just had its rent quintupled, so a tasty basement space has become available.
SATURDAY. Irish Connie says our proposed restaurant name – Cool War – isn’t mimsy enough for today’s discerning wankers. She suggests TIN-TINS, which will chime but not infringe. Sorted.
And ‘fun designers’ East Algia are on board. Their recent underwater pop-up diner, Rejection, served food that had been partially digested and then regurgitated by dolphins, still warm.
SUNDAY. Planning tasting menu in the recliner. Watney’s Red Barrel. Tinned nuts, olives. Pre-mixed margarita. Little can of muscadet. Tinned Bismarck herring. Fray Bentos steak pie, giant marrowfat peas, big tin of gutsy claret…
Cor. Put on some Shostakovich. Have tinned lunch.