Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley

Why become an architect when there’s a whole world of toothpaste and socks out there?

Stephen Bayley

Image: Brijesh Patel

May 12 2011
Stephen Bayley

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Sometimes I recall, ruefully, why I never became an architect. Then, again, if I had become an architect, I would be lucky nowadays to be detailing bus shelters in Ormskirk, demand for cathedrals having almost entirely dried up. Anyway, the reason I never became an architect was because I felt I could not draw quite well enough. (Do, please, note the sophisticated use of “quite”.)

Significantly, my failure to become what I wanted to be has resulted in an existence of the purest felicity. For this reason, I am always reluctant when asked for careers advice. I mean: what can you say about a day that began with a meeting on how best to promote a new toothpaste? We can say this: we sat down and decided to do a presentation about the art of flirting, about how a coruscating smile of perfect white dentition is the best route to professional and erotic success. There followed a lunch with an old friend, one of Europe’s leading sock entrepreneurs. I know this sounds ridiculous, but socks are big business. Gross it all up Europe-wide and we are talking millions and millions. People don’t take socks seriously, which is why my friend is also glad he did not become an architect.

Next appointment? The chairman’s party of a big knitwear company: champagne, Mayfair, cashmere. You see why my wretched careers master at school got it so badly wrong? I told him I wanted to do architecture at Cambridge. Silly boy, he said, you cannot do architecture at Cambridge. Then I realised I wasn’t so great at drawing. Last night was memorable too: the Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham. Hannah is a brilliant 30-ish art entrepreneur: with an inspired mixture of charm and cunning, two years ago she won the use of two floors of a desolate multi-storey car park from a clueless local council. On one floor was an exhibition; on another, with an amazing view, was a pop-up restaurant of sloppily mad wonderfulness.

Now she is planning to get use of the whole building and will have everything you can imagine pop-up. I think this is a brilliant model for desolate city centres everywhere. You don’t have to be an architect to influence the destiny of buildings.

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