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The time traveller’s life

If only we knew yesterday what we’ll know tomorrow, but things change so fast

Dec 1989 (Helen is 19 and 32)

Helen: The first time is magical. I’m staring at a blank page the night before my 2nd year interim crit and then suddenly I’m in the studio without so much as a set square to cover my modesty. 

Helen: I’m on my way to the 2012 RIBA Awards. One minute I’m fumbling with my business cards; the next I’m in my part 1 studio. Something here rings a bell. I see my younger self in the corner, wearing the weird tutor’s smoking jacket and scribbling an elevation. She stares at me incredulously. I pick up a scrap of trace and a pen and draw, from memory, the design she’ll work up tomorrow, too late for the crit. She smiles and I’m gone.

Jul 1993 (Helen is 40, Clive is 23)

Helen: I find myself in a loo. Opening the door cautiously, I immediately sense that I’m in an architecture school. It’s early, maybe 7am so I head for the studios, knowing I can rely on students leaving clothes in their home from home. I find a tracksuit and don it just before a student appears. There’s no recognition on his face, but this is my Clive. 

Clive: Depressed about a pointless tutorial, I go in early to see if I can find a clue in someone else’s sketch book. As I walk through the door I see a woman, too old to be a student but wearing a uni tracksuit. Weirdly, she seems to be expecting me. She offers me a job designing a staircase in some library she’s working on. She takes my sketchbook and writes a list of dates that we’ll meet to discuss the design, then walks away. I follow her through the door but she’s vanished.

Nov 1997 (Clive is 27, Helen is 27)

Clive: It’s been two years since I’ve seen Helen. The commissions and tutorials have been invaluable. I’m sure I’d have failed without her. Instead I’m nominated for the RIBA President’s Silver Medal. 

Helen: Perhaps thanks to the unorthodox help I’ve had from my older self, I’m nominated for the silver medal. The party is a bit dull but then this guy comes up to me with a huge grin. He knows my name. It dawns on me that I must know him, or I will know him, or we both know me. We look at the exhibition and our snipes align perfectly. We start a practice immediately.

Mar 2007 (Clive is 37, Helen is 37)

Clive: An email pings to tell us that we’ve failed to get another public job. I try to persuade Helen that we’ll have better luck with the upcoming library PQQ but she says she’s had enough. I don’t blame her. Time and time again we lose out because we haven’t already completed the project that we’re about to do. 

We look at the exhibition and our snipes align perfectly. We start a practice immediately

Jan 1999 and Mar 2007  (Helen is 28)

Helen: Clive is sleeping off the new year’s party as I turn on the computer and trawl through the first of 1999’s invitations to tender. I wonder if we’ll ever not have to fight this hard and then I’m in an austere atrium. A security guard has fallen asleep over the paper. I borrow the jacket on a peg behind him and peer over his shoulder for the date. It’s 2007, the future! This is rare, what can I do?

Jun 1996 (Helen is 41, Clive is 26)

Clive: It’s 23 hours until my final diploma crit. I’ve been awake my entire 20s. I‘ve nothing left, but somehow, I have to finish this Photoshop. I go to make another coffee and when I get back to my desk Helen is there. She’s in a great mood because her library project just completed successfully. She’s laughing at Photoshop 3 which I find odd because I was just thinking that layers are a miracle. 

Jun 2016 (Clive is 46, Helen is 46)

Clive: Helen has been gone for three years. I know she isn’t dead because I’ve glimpsed an older version of herself in a café round the corner, but still, I’m so relieved when she returns. She comes straight back to the office but we soon know it won’t work. BIM has really taken hold and anyone who hasn’t kept up just can’t work. We embrace tearfully and she walks out of the office for the last time.

Sep 2077 (Clive is 107, Helen is 42)

Clive: My hand stumps twinge so I blink online and calibrate the receptors. I have to adjust the speed of the global rotation on my holographixatron but soon I’m building again. The lift shafts are almost complete and I’m excited to start building the ground floor formwork tomorrow. I have a flashback to when architects had to issue drawings and people had to risk their lives pouring concrete. Laughable. I think of how Helen would have been brilliant at this. If only she could have mastered BIM before it was too late.

Helen: I find myself in a dark hallway. I follow it into a room where an old man sits by the window, concentrating intently on something. As I get closer I realise it’s Clive! Clive old! What the hell is he doing?. 

Maria Smith is a director at Studio Weave
With thanks to The Time Traveller’s Wife

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