I had high hopes for “The Secret Life of Buildings” (Channel 4) but I’m afraid I can’t hide my disappointment. I think I expected too much, after all it is only popular television, and just because the producers came up with the same brilliant title that I did for my body of work (after Gavin Macrae-Gibson), that is no promise of brilliance.
Interestingly, all the publicity shots for the programme are of the presenter Tom Dyckhoff himself, clearly a personality-led series. What is so striking about Dyckhoff is the way he looks, or at least the way he dresses. If you did not know his occupation you could probably work it out. The buttoned-up shirt, cartoon spectacles and too-small schoolboy jacket all scream “I”M A COOL INTELLECTUAL!”, but with a whisper of (wanker). Coincidentally, I too have cropped hair, a stubble beard and glasses, but you would never mistake me for an architecture critic. Possible more a geography teacher or real ale enthusiast. Dyckhoff has that earnest reassurance of a children’s television presenter, and the dress sense of Tin Tin.
Whilst I do not think that starting with an extreme example to introduce a concept is a bad thing, such as David Adjaye’s Lost House to introduce a discussion on light exposure, the programme is largely composed of house-porn, where he flits from one unattainable ideal to another, boyishly harping “why can’t we all live like this?”.
As far as the Lost House is concerned, can you imagine the trauma for the owner when she has guests? I could probably push her into an OCD-induced coma within 5 minutes. Have you ever been to a party with me? I’d be spilling Chilean Cabernet-Sauvignon on her polished floors and leaving hand prints on her black walls quicker than she could say ‘Laszlo Moholy-Nagy”.
Dyckhoff touches on interesting concepts such as the effects of light exposure and physical enclosure, but the science is extremely dodgy. It’s neither one thing nor another. He talks about psychology and physiology but does not deliver any hardcore science. He talks about finance and land prices but has no grasp of the real costs. Then he masturbates over some artists’ show-home that has no more place in the real world than a fish-cycle.
However, he does throw a sop to the proles amongst us and interviews some residents from “a 1960’s housing estate in north London”. It’s a shame he didn’t cover Park Hill, Sheffield, UK. I was present at an extremely enlightening talk by Mark Latham of Urban Splash who went into great detail about how the flats had been redesigned to combat the notorious problems of the failed “streets-in-the-sky”. It was far more informative and authoritative than Dyckhoff’s house-porn shopping.
Dyckhoff introduces a self-build scheme in Almere, Amsterdam where house prices (including land) are estimated at around £145,000 “all in”. “It really proves that affordable self-building is possible” he claims. It proves nothing. He fails to investigate the real cost. The land is government-owned and the whole scheme appears to be some sort of subsidised experiment. Then he moans that in the UK land prices are “supposedly” regulated by the free market but end up being dominated by the “big money”. That’s the market forces you were talking about, mate, were you not listening to your own argument?
More importantly, the results in Almere are hideous. They all look like they belong in a Fuzzy-Felt Home-Builder edition. “I think independent, affordable self-build is the way forward”. But for whom? Sorry, mate I’m too busy working for a living, I can’t afford it and do not want to live in Legoland.
Rant over, but expect more soon.