Friday Thought: IKEA Architecture, the birth of no place in particular

When you think of a city, or country, one of the first things that pops into your head is its architecture. Rome, London, Paris, Japan, Russia… they all have buildings and structures that take centre stage on their map, and in the brand they present to the world. These landmarks will likely never go away, but the world around them has been fading for decades.

The first modern skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885, since then well over 22,791 skyscrapers over 100m have been built (that’s just the ones in cities with more than 10). More and more begin climbing every day. This is logical as populations boom, the cost of land in cities rises and the emphasis on protecting green belts heightens. This isn’t an anti-skyscraper piece. I find them quite fascinating, and the criticism I have is not exclusive to skyscrapers.

With few exceptions, modern architecture lacks variety. It lacks authenticity and originality. It lacks a soul and identity. Blocks of concrete, walls of glass… maybe some cladding if you’re lucky. In my view, the best pieces of modern architecture are the ones that merge with and transform an old building. One like Battersea Power Station for example, a regenerative masterpiece.

For a long time, Europe bucked the trend, choosing to put the preservation of their heritage and character above large-scale high-rise developments. If they did have them, they were usually restricted to specific zones. This is changing. Even Europe are beginning to lean more and more towards the future of the huge glass box. The IKEA architecture. Buildings that you could take down and put back up in another city and nobody would notice that anything had happened.

I’m pro-development. I love to see places being regenerated, but it’s important that we have our own character. Developments need to be unique and creative, something that stands out amongst the crowd. The globe already wears the same clothes, drives the same cars, eats the same food and consumes the same media. Globalism has been burying local landscapes for ages, and it’s doing the same to architecture too.

We can and should be regenerating, building and designing our cities in a way that reflects their identity, before every city in the world is reborn as nowhere in particular.

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Friday Thought: National Mourning, no room for dissent

On Monday, Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will finally take place. It’s been a week since she passed away at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. That week has been… interesting, to say the least. 

If you’ve been watching the rolling news coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the entire country is in a deep state of depression. They talk about a ‘national mood’ as if the nation is united in one single emotion. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. A relatively small section of the population is devastated, a very small section is happy, and the majority are acknowledging the scale of the event but aren’t particularly emotional about it. That’s my experience, anyway, reinforcing my thoughts immediately after her death that the mourning — rather than being natural- was being imposed from above.

Even on the night the Queen’s death was announced, I saw more people complaining that the weekend’s football was going to be cancelled than I did crying about the Queen. NHS appointments, that have taken months if not years to trickle down waiting lists, have been cancelled. Strikes cancelled. Foodbanks closed. Funerals postponed. Cycle racks closed (seriously!). Events that wanted to go ahead have buckled, terrified of being shredded by legacy media and their obsessions. 

“If the individual concerned committed acts of violence, or the police had reason to believe they would, then action was obviously necessary. But if the individual was simply stating an opinion, I trust you agree a liberal approach would be desirable.

“I speak as a strong monarchist, but nevertheless I hope that members of the public will remain free to share their opinions and protest in regard to issues about which they feel strongly.” 

David Davis MP

Even more concerning than the forced national mourning is the vicious oppression of opposing points of view. Protesters have been arrested up and down the country for as little as asking who elected the new King and holding up a blank placard. The windows of vocal republican businesses have been smashed in. Protesters assaulted by crowds. Ordinary people mobbed on social media for sharing or writing things that are ‘disrespectful’. 

There are legitimate arguments to be had about whether or not now is the right time to protest, share memes or question the monarchy as an institution… but it isn’t up to ‘patriotic’ mob culture to pick and choose when other people are entitled to exercise their rights to freedom of speech, protest and expression. 

This period has highlighted what has been, increasingly, becoming the norm in the UK. Freedom of expression and speech is being assaulted by all sides of the political spectrum who refuse to tolerate anything they disagree with. The right to protest is being increasingly stamped out by the Government. 

We wage wars in the Middle East and square up to the likes of Russia and China in pursuit of our so-called ‘Western values’, but at the same time we are increasingly not adequately defending these values on our own soil.

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Friday Thought: Queen Elizabeth II, the end of an Elizabethan age

I had a very different thought planned for today, but like everything else, something much bigger has taken over. Yesterday, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This moment was inevitable, and most have seen this moment appearing over the horizon for quite some time, but nobody could really prepare for the death of a woman who has been the symbol of the United Kingdom for seventy years.

Even for me, somebody who is staunchly opposed to the existence of the monarchy as an institution, the moment hit differently. I was sat at a table in a local pub, pint in hand waiting for the start of the second half of Zurich vs Arsenal. The push notification popping up on my phone, Buckingham Palace had announced the death of the Queen, followed by the news projected onto the screen. Mutters broke out across the bar but nothing that reflected the momentous nature of the situation.

I think there was an element of shock, it was at the start of the following Manchester United vs Real Sociedad that the mood changed. As the players stood for a minutes silence, you could have heard a pin drop. Absolute uninterrupted silence. A round of applause rattling around the room at its conclusion, echoing the fans at Old Trafford.

There is no doubt that the Queen was a fundamental part of life in this country. Her death is going to rattle around this country for the foreseeable. Many will mourn a monarch, some will mourn a woman and others will not mourn at all.

My thoughts are with the Royal Family at this difficult time and with all who are mourning. For ten days, the country mourns. After that, with the final pillar of stability of seventy years no longer with us, the United Kingdom, the monarchy and the Commonwealth are heading for a turbulent period ahead.

I’m not sure what I make of the moment. I’d place myself in mourning the woman. I don’t support the monarchy, but there is a lot to be said about the character and contribution to society of this particular incarnation. I have a lot of respect for Elizabeth as an individual.

There was an obscure feeling around her death. The tragedy of any death and national sadness of the death of a national figure. This stood in stark contrast to the almost comic nature of the carefully choreographed performance that surrounded it. The black ties. The black social media cover photos and profile pictures. The grey Google logo. The intermittent black and silence on the screen. The Queen’s portrait on the digital advertising board outside Tesco.

I wasn’t alive during the death and mourning of Princess Diana, but after watching it back and knowing people that lived it… the moment was starkly different. Diana’s death saw an upwards outpouring of grief, one that ultimately forced national mourning. This, like the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, was very different. Rather than an organic flood of grief from ordinary people, grief felt like the full force of the establishment forcing it down on your head… covering your eyes until all you can see is black.

When a senior royal dies, the grief is orchestrated from above and forced down and out of every section of society. As a member of Lydney Town Council I had to approve the London Bridge policy. A detailed plan for how we, as a council, were to respond to the death of the Queen. From when the flag is lowered and raised to where the flowers are placed and when they are removed. Micro-details planned to within an inch of their lives.

The people of this country should be able to grieve, or not grieve and decide how they want to grieve or not grieve. Instead, the world grinds to a halt. Events cancelled. Television channel after channel plugged with memorials. You must grieve and you must do so how we tell you to.

Elizabeth II was inspiring in so many ways, her death is a loss to this country. Many will want to mourn her death and rightly so. The real grief will not come from the performing arts of the timetable, it will be much deeper than that. Much realer than that.

My thoughts are with the Royal Family at this difficult time and with all who are mourning. For ten days, the country mourns. After that, with the final pillar of stability of seventy years no longer with us, the United Kingdom, the monarchy and the Commonwealth are heading for a turbulent period ahead.

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Friday Thought: Beyond Entertainment, the true power of the arts

I spent some time over in London again recently. Amongst my antics I had the privilege, and it most definitely was that, of watching The Trials by Dawn King at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden. The production’s UK premiere lasting just over two weeks with a cast of fifteen and set consisting, almost entirely, of just three tables and some chairs. Whilst being fairly climate conscious, I stumbled across the play almost by accident after my sister and I went full queer at seeing Heartstopper’s Joe Locke and William Gao on the cast list. I’m glad I did.

It brought something back to the forefront of my mind that I’ve always appreciated, but many still don’t. The creative arts aren’t merely something to keep you entertained. They are fundamental in creating shared experiences, developing ideas and progressing society. This production demonstrates this perfectly, and in a beautifully minimalist way.

When confronted with the prospect of a play where a jury of young people judge adults for their role in climate catastrophe, its easy to expect the usual eco-warrior tirade about how our parents have destroyed the world and can never be forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, the text dishes out an abundance of that with some naughty words thrown in for good measure, but its power lies in its ability to aim for a deliver the precise opposite.

The creative arts aren’t merely something to keep you entertained. They are fundamental in creating shared experiences, developing ideas and progressing society. This production demonstrates this perfectly, and in a beautifully minimalist way.

The overarching question knitted throughout the dystopian drama is simple, what are we looking for? Justice or outright revenge? Through Dawn’s quality storytelling, the show’s presentation and the powerful cast, a poignant message of intergenerational conflict plays out in front of an audience made up of those very generations. For me, the message came across loud and clear. Young people have found themselves in a state of existential crisis through no fault of their own, but revenge is no solution and a belief that everyone that came before us actively harmed us is too simple. Forgiveness, compassion and unity are the only viable solution.

The arts have an ability to do what little else can. Inform, entertain, encourage, provoke and unite all at the same time. You can gather an audience, consisting of all sides of an issue, and they can come away with newfound perspectives and insights on each other. Bridging divides, developing ideas and uniting people in the face of problems that normally splinter us into warring factions. The arts can shape people, shape arguments and shape the evolution of society itself.

We’d do well to do everything we can, as a country, to encourage and develop the arts and to treat them as the important and powerful mediums for change that they are. The unpredictable nature of careers in the arts can lead to some banishing their creativity and passion in favour of a more stable path, we need this to change. As a tool for bringing people together and developing ideas for the future, you can’t get much better than this.

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