What is it about construction sites that A-list celebs find so irresistible? Mace's Number One Deansgate in Manchester won the glamour prize after eccentric goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and his supermodel girlfriend Linda Evangelista turned up one day. At the other end of the scale is HBG's Birmingham Hippodrome, which received an impromptu visit from tattifilarious buck-toothed "comedian" Ken Dodd. Perhaps it's down to the influence of animated superstar Bob the Builder, this week bringing the industry the pop-cultural recognition it deserves with his "best single" nomination at the Brit Awards.
As you'll know, Robert Mugabe will defend to the death free speech for people who agree with him. But others are not so lucky – in particular, the Zimbabwean journalists being leaned on to toe the party line in the run-up to elections in March. The same goes for their foreign counterparts, some of whom have found themselves giving lengthy unscheduled interviews to the local police, often in small rooms with dripping taps.
I mention all this to set the scene for Costain's plan to transport a couple of hundredweight of construction writers to Africa to witness its operations in Zimbabwe and Botswana. Realising that detention or disappearance would interfere with their deadlines, Costain considered disguising the hacks as a group of its own workers, possibly en route to a bush rehabilitation clinic, before reluctantly calling the whole thing off. "We'll see what the situation is like later in the year," a spokesperson said, optimistically.
A dirty weekend with Vitruvius
"Commodity, firmness and delight", the trinity of the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, is the ultimate in worthy-but-dull exhibition titles. But don't let this put you off next week's exhibition of said title at the RIBA's Cube gallery on Portland Street, Manchester – this one is devoted to Japanese "love hotels".
Unlike British lovers, who tend to prefer windswept railway stations or discreet locations tucked behind somewhere, Japanese couples go for the most outrageous styles available to humanity, such as beds inserted into outsized Cadillacs and surrounded by pulsing neon. Commodious and delightful, perhaps – but where does the firmness come in?
Blobs, beds and Margate
Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen, of Oslo practice Snøhetta, was at the RIBA last week to unveil the designs of his competition-winning proposal for Margate's art gallery. The blob-shaped building – dedicated to the great JMW Turner, who hailed from the town – resembles a shark's fin, according to some. Others compare it to a sail or a pebble. Which is correct? "It doesn't matter," Thorsen explained, "so long as it reminds you of the sea".
The conversation then turned to Margate's other great artistic export: Tracey Emin. One day, everybody agreed, Emin would be celebrated in her own gallery. But what shape should it take? A bed? A giant embroidered marquee? Thorsen, showing admirable restraint, declined to speculate.
Bags of talent
It's not only David Beckham who has earned the moniker Golden Balls. I gather that Tarmac's Altcourse prison project in Manchester six years ago brought together two young assistant project managers who were given a similar sobriquet. It seems that they performed so well there that they went on to lead the dream team that handled the biggest and toughest of the contractors' jobs. These days, they are known as Carillion directors John Hotham and Richard Howson, but on sites around the land they were, for many years, the Golden Bollocks.
Meades' tomb tome
I know I appear to be on a marketing mission for Building columnists – I'm not – but having plugged Alistair McAlpine's book in the last issue, I thought I'd alert you to another candidate for unused Christmas book vouchers: Jonathan Meades' The Fowler Family Business. Set in south London, it is the story of a family in the funeral business. Or, in the words of the publicist, "a nasty, gruesomely comic paean to the sylvan heights of Forest Hill and Upper Norwood, a warped map of the death trade's quotidian strangeness".
With the Christmas festivities a distant memory, it's back to the more mundane things in life – such as trade fairs. However, one company at the Kitchen, Bedrooms and Bathrooms exhibition tried to make the schlep around the NEC in Birmingham a little less arduous by offering visitors a little Italian hospitality – to wit, fine wines and delicious antipasti. And the product visitors will be feasting their eye on during this repast? Bright and cheerful lavatory seats.
As you will know, English Heritage treats St Paul's Cathedral with a certain amount of respect. So a few eyebrows were raised when Elaine Harwood, its listings inspector, made a plea to save Draper's Gardens, a 29-storey office building a few blocks away from the Wren masterpiece. Harwood might think the 1960s slab is Richard Seifert's best building, but it seems that this is not the official line. A colleague who chatted with Philip Davies, the architectural watchdog's London director, tells me that EH can't wait to see Draper's Gardens reduced to rubble.