A month after the Great Fire, King Charles was keen for the Reconstruction Commission to get to grips with sustainability as part of a rebranding strategy going forward. Sir Christopher Wren takes up the story …
A trying morning at the London Reconstruction Commission. Before I’d even had a chance to get my wig out (I never put it on before I get to work since I cycle in), Charles II came flouncing through the door with that “I’ve just had a good idea” look on his face. “Wren!” he expostulated. Then he waited for a moment while that chap who follows him around with the trumpet finished. “Wren,” he started again, “I’ve just had a good idea.”
“Indeed, sir! You know what this commission needs, Wren? It needs to engage the public interest.”
“Really, sir? I mean, I think we’ve pretty much done that. We are rebuilding their homes and businesses after all. That seems to have piqued their interest,” I ventured.
“Pooh, pooh!” said Charles II clicking his fingers at that chap who he has follow him around to make dismissive hand gestures as and when necessary. “I’m not hearing enough chatter about this commission. You need to be on people’s minds, on their lips. You need to be in the “What’s Hot” bit of the town cryer’s proclamation and not the “What’s Not” bit. Am I right?”
“Well, sir, I –”
“Nobody’s talking about it, Wren. Whenever I hear people on the street they always seem to be saying things like ‘Is that the King over there?’ or ‘What’s with that dismissive hand gesture guy who’s following him around?’ Never anything about you shower. So here’s what you do: rebrand.”
“Rebrand the London Reconstruction Commission, sir?”
“Got it in one. I’ve had the chaps in marketing look into this and here’s what they’ve come up with.” The King unfurled a stitched vellum pennant on which was the legend “Rebuild!” “It’s your new name,” he said. “I had them do it in copperplate because I wanted a font that was funky and now and yet classy enough to say ‘Hey! We’re a top drawer operation.’”
“Sir, I –”
“Wren, nothing gives a quango a sense of purpose like a with-it new name. Look what a difference there was in media coverage once I made the plague doctors call themselves the Bubo Dudes. So. You’ll be getting new headed stationery, more calling cards than you can possibly use and an expensive office fit-out to reflect the new colour scheme and vision.”
I know better than to argue with the King so I indicated my acquiescence with a slight bow. I had wanted to spend the morning looking at the replanning pitches that had arrived (in particular to try to fathom Baroness Hadid’s, which she’d sent in the form of a möbius strip made of cedar bark in a pat of butter, to which was appended a note reading “It’ll basically look something like this”) and so was keen to get the King on his way. He, however, had more to say.
This Portland Stone for St Paul’s can be renewed by geological processes every few million years. It is, therefore, sustainable
“And we’re going to need some buzzwords. Buzzwords are the building blocks of talking points, talking points are the girders of debate and debate is…” He raised his eyebrows.
“…chatter, sir?” I ventured.
“Exactamundo, as my wife might say. I’m thinking sustainability.”
“Sustainability, sir? What does that mean?”
“It doesn’t matter what it means, Wren, people don’t know what buzzwords mean, they just like the sound of them. But if anyone asks, we’ll say it’s about building materials. What were houses made of before the fire?”
“Well, sir … wood, straw, rat filth, bits of old plague victim …”
“Aha!” said Charles, pointing at the chap whose job it is to bang tables for him. “And what are the disadvantages of these?”
“I suppose the principal disadvantage is that they go on fire, sir.”
“No, Wren. For our purposes it is that these materials have no sustainability. You can’t just go round making new wood. Once a tree’s gone it’s gone. Whereas this Portland Stone you’re using for St Paul’s can be renewed by natural geological processes every few million years. It is, therefore, sustainable. That’s what we’ll tell people. It’s all about the presentation, Wren. Just ask John Webb. How do you think he got that extraordinary BREEAM rating for Greenwich Hospital? He’s not known as John ‘Call The Thames A Fully Automated Waste Recycling Unit’ Webb for nothing, you know. Nope, you know what I always say: successful building’s about having all your ducks in a row. Why are your ducks never in a row when I see you, Wren?”
“I think, sir,” I said, looking sympathetically at the ducks flapping about, “It’s because of that spaniel you always bring with you.”
“Indeed,” said Charles II, nodding. And with a quick “Come on, boy,” he tugged on the leash and swept out.
Chris Addison is a writer, actor and comedian
Building Awards 2008
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