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This world ain’t big enough

Maria Smith

Maria Smith tells the tale of a cunning plan

Once upon a time there was a baby fox. His name was Focks. Focks wanted to be a journalist so he went to architecture school and moaned about it very loudly until everyone in architecture knew who he was. Then he got a job at an architecture magazine. The magazine was called Snide. Focks quickly rose in the ranks by writing very clever articles that appeared as flattery to the idiots they were about and appeared as insult to the jealous readers who wished they were about them. Before long he was deputy editor and everyone assumed he was the creative force behind Snide because the editor was spending so much time hanging out in private clubs and reminiscing about the smell of Soho in the rain in the 80s that he barely had any time to do any work. This suited Focks down to the ground because he would hate anyone to think he wasn’t the underdog.

One day the editor of Snide got into an argument with the driver of a black cab who splashed a puddle of water over his Church’s and a series of unfortunate comeuppances led to him being sectioned. Focks could see what was coming; he was going to be promoted to editor. He knew this would be a disaster so he promptly resigned and went to Africa to build schools and remind everyone he had a degree in architecture and genuine affinity with the real world. An incredible stroke of luck involving a minor but exaggerated-in-the-UK-press disease outbreak near where Focks was working meant he got away with only three months instructing children to carry concrete blocks the five hour walk from the nearest road before coming home a hero. Slightly thinner, slightly hairier, and slightly more adept on the dance floor, Focks was ready to enact the next stage in his plan.

Calling in a favour from a fellow architecture drop-out that worked at a quasi-quango-funding-body-design-police-outfit, Focks secured himself a job as in-house client-side design-advisor for a local authority suffering an influx of infrastructure-earmarked cash they had no idea how to spend. Focks wrote press releases every day for nine months and the council quickly became the envy of all other councils, which councils inexplicably like to be. At the same time, for completely unrelated reasons surrounding class guilt, the daughter of a fashion magnate opened a boutique nail bar with an unviable business plan in the council’s second largest town centre and Focks was immediately credited with achieving tantric gentrification.

Slightly thinner, slightly hairier, and slightly more adept on the dance floor, Focks was ready to enact the next stage in his plan

Focks’ next move was to set up a new practice that delivered community consultation services by convincing architecture schools to pay his practice to deliver taught modules effectively outsourcing education while getting students to work for free. It was of course immediately a runaway success and all the high profile architects signed a petition to save it even though it was in no danger. Focks later revealed that he was using the format of the petition to demonstrate how harnessing the agency we have for change leads to positive action-research even in the face of rampant neoliberalism.  

After two years, thirteen and a half students had helped three small-scale developers from far away places – where they spoke languages into which it was impossible to translate the bureaucracy of the British planning system – to not get planning. This upset local residents by drawing attention to a long established roller blading club that had to be shut down after scrutiny revealed that the precise frequency generated by the rollerbladers’ wheels travelling over that particular grade of macadam caused a nervous tick in a species of bat that an amateur ornithologist claimed to have seen on her way back from an endoscopy that went very slightly wrong.

Flush with human interest, Focks secured a job at a national broadsheet just as the first NASA probes were bringing back evidence of life on Mars. For a year he travelled the globe building up momentum and air-miles and prestige while in the background positioning himself to be the first architecture critic to make it to off-world and assess the structures of the single-celled organisms’ habitats. Thirty-nine design festivals later and Focks found himself strapped in to a rocket seat next to Richard Branson’s third cousin twice removed and the cryogenically preserved identical-twin Siberian models that had been really big in the 20s. An inarticulable time later, he was on Mars, dictating to the singularity on the kitschness of crystal formation and audacity of florescence of proto-organs. Just as he was feeling pleased with himself for coming up with the perfect pun around sub-zero extra-terrestrial architecture being like frozen music, life as we know it was irreversibly altered and nobody cared.

Maria Smith  is a director of architecture at engineering practice Interrobang and curator of Turncoats



Tuesday 5 December 2023, 9 am – 11:15 am

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