This week, tsar of all the Russias Lord Falconer takes on Sir Basil Spence, builders star in their own sitcom, and celebrating the life of a great engineer
Twinkle, twinkle, little tsar
Since Lord Falconer's move to the Home Office, there has been confusion over whether he retains his role as "design tsar", issuing ukases to Whitehall's departmental design champions. The question is apposite, given the savage knouting the champions have received from such industry figures as Sir Stuart Lipton recently.

So, our thanks then to arts minister Baroness Blackstone, who paused from announcing the shortlist for the prime minister's better public building award at the Tate Modern last week to reiterate that Falconer is very much in charge. "Lord Falconer is still our tsar," Blackstone said, "and Stuart Lipton is still our Rasputin."

Eyes wide shut
Tony McNulty, the newly appointed junior minister for housing and planning, has a guilty secret. Speaking at a social housing conference last week, he admitted that he was the only member of the London Planning Advisory Committee who voted against the construction of the London Eye – on the basis that it was doomed to failure. He added: "I hope my judgement has moved on from there."

Poisonous remarks
Everyone knows that nurses, teachers and firemen are being priced out of the London property market – but what about cleaners? London mayor Ken Livingstone, who is pushing for 50% affordable units on developments in the capital, gave a compelling reason for their importance at a London Housing Forum conference. "If the cleaner can't get to the operating theatre on time and clean it up and you die of septicaemia you're going to be really pissed off." Er, my sentiments exactly.

Roberts on the scrapheap
John Roberts, director of engineering at Babtie Group, is also chairman of the Institution of Structural Engineers working group that produced the report Safety in Tall Buildings this week. This experience will no doubt come in useful for his next challenge: as a judge on Channel 4's Scrapheap Challenge. At least it will if the teams are set the task of designing and building a 350 m high office complex with adequate provisions to evacuate all occupants in the event of a hydrocarbon fire …

On the way to the forum
I detect grumblings over the future of the strategic forum, the body chaired by Sir John Egan that is supposed to be guiding the construction industry towards the shining city on a hill that is named Integrated Supply Chains. With Egan about to step down and the government keen to get the thing off its hands, trade groups are lining up to take over. "It's all the usual suspects," said one source, who predicted the forum's replacement with a boxing ring, featuring regular bouts between the trade bodies and the professional institutions.

Another D&B cock-up
A colleague witnessed a bit of builderly slapstick in a west London pub last week. A group of labourers were enjoying a drink when one decided to give another a fireman's lift out of the pub. Unfortunately, the tipsy twosome smashed the glass pane on the door. Whoops. No problem. We'll get a sheet of plywood from the site. There you go. Oh. Yes, it is a bit on the small side … Enter landlord: Thanks lads, I'll just phone a window repair service …

Open secret
Treasury permanent secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull has presided over a double revolution at the civil service. Not only is the Treasury the first department to use PFI to upgrade its premises, but he has moved the permanent secretary's office into the open-plan throng. Does this mean he intends to spearhead open-plan thinking throughout the civil service? Well, not exactly. Now that the refit is in train, Turnbull is moving to the Cabinet Office, where he has been assigned a lavish oak-wainscotted private office.

Nick Hanika remembered
In the best tradition of wakes, last week's celebration of the life and work of structural engineer Nick Hanika, the Price & Myers partner who died of a brain tumour in April, was more joyous than sad. The fact that the celebration was held at the RIBA, where more than 300 architects and friends thronged the Jarvis Hall, rather than the Institution of Structural Engineers, said a lot about this brilliant and lovable man.

To Paul Williams, director of developer Derwent Valley, Hanika was not just an architects' engineer on account of his skill at realising buildings, but also a client's engineer because he never argued about terms of appointment. Greater praise for a building professional is hard to imagine …

A brush with Basil

Lord Falconer might be a Labour peer, but his language is of the deepest blue. A colleague, who caught up with him at the Better Public Buildings function at the Tate Modern last Friday, says the rotund minister managed to use the F word three times in a three-minute conversation. The chief target was his office in the Home Office’s concrete tower at Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster. In his speech, Falconer said working in the Sir Basil Spence-designed edifice made him feel like a victim of crime. Talking to my colleague, he was more forthright. “It’s fucking awful,” he said.