I had a depressing conversation with a builder recently. He was funding his post-grad by working on one of the many developments currently on a bizarre game of build-as-slow-as-you-can. I mentioned that I had more than a passing interest in newbuilds; sort of a hobby, you might say. I wondered what he thought of my suspicions that they are built to a very poor standard (see; I can be tactful when need dictates.)
He offered his technical appraisal of urban newbuild flats, which I’ll try and convey. I’m not an expert, and he was using jargon and complex terminology. He described them as being (what was it now?) ah, that’s it: “crap.” Or did he say “shite?” Oh dear, I could kick myself. You must think me so unprofessional.
I suggested, and he confirmed, that many flats are constructed under the laws of Blue Peter craft-sheets and the wonderful game of Jenga, using balsa-wood, paper-clips and cling-film, and that developers meet planners and building inspectors with fingers crossed behind their backs while kissing a crucifix (inverted of course.) When applications are successful, shame-faced architects slope off to wail, while developers sacrifice a goat (letting-agents drink the blood.)
Bob The Builder (not his real name…) used insider knowledge when he noticed a widening crack in the walls in his former rented home. He assembled housemates in the filigree lounge/kitchen/study/laundry-room/diner to reason with them, in a calm and understated manner: “Run away!!!” he said, adding: “Save yourselves!!!”
I thought it might be plaster shrinkage. He said: don’t be silly. When I told him about Dovecot Towers, he was blank, until he realised that I was expecting him to be shocked.
Whenever I mention the appalling state of modern domestic architecture, its inherent design inadequacies and common structural defects, people think I am making it up, or joking. I’m not. But if anyone reading this is working, or has worked on a building site, could you just confirm that I’m telling the truth. It’s like being the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes: I can see the Emperor’s hairy arse, and newbuild flats are terrible.
What’s needed is a friendly, informed mole to help us out of this hole. We need a public-spirited builder who has worked on these monstrosities to become a whistle-blower, and reveal the regime of institutionalised cost-cutting and standard skimming that is the true monstrous carbuncle defacing contemporary architecture, and blighting daily life for tenants.
Incidentally, when I heard that one of the worst culprits for building these miserable hutches is in financial trouble, I laughed so hard that tea came out of my nose (apparently, a similar trick is performed in Bangkok.)
If justice is to be served, that particular firm will go bankrupt, its directors forced to rent a flat where the washing-machine is effectively next to the sofa, where you can hear neighbours whisper and piss, where you worry about falling through ceilings if you tread too hard, and where your post is stolen. Nice Heights (my final decision on the official nickname btw) is proof that great buildings are possible, so let it be done more often.