The French House in Soho is about the best place in the world to be on Saturday morning for a reviving glass of pink and a two-tab breakfast. While its cigarette vending machine is not quite the magnificent creature it was in the early eighties, (Gitanes, Gauloises, Piccadilly and Senior Service), it still sells tabs.
The French is a good place for conversation because it has rules, no mobile phones, and while this is an unwritten rule, no children. It was here that I discussed the issues of being a grown up post 1/7 with an older lady sitting next to me. It was suggested in ominous tones that “the place will be crawling with brats and their dreadful middle class mothers as soon as the ban comes into effect”.
On the 1 July this year our government will join our enlightened European neighbours by banning the consumption of tobacco by smoking in all enclosed public spaces.
The images on the reproduced page above will be familiar to any taxpayer who does not work on their own from their own home. Fig.1. and 2. represent the architectural content of our government’s recent mail drop, informing us of this momentous prohibition. Apart from compelling us to litter our premises with no-smoking logos, it would seem that the new legislation could have some interesting affects on our city’s built environment.
The business proprietor is under no legal compulsion to provide external smoking space, however it would seem reasonable to assume that most pubs and other sites of public resort will decide to provide some, if they don’t want to go out of business in the short term. That’s assuming that there might be some lag between the enactment of this legislation and the perfection of human behaviour.
Historically, prohibition-driven architecture could be characterized as, “super interior”, and metropolitan. I’m thinking here of environments such as the opium den, brothel or speakeasy. It was/is important that a proprietor could/can rely on a large population of potential clients with cash, plus a discreet street presence so that the local law enforcement agencies could/can reasonably pretend that they did/do not know of an establishment’s existence.
The partial prohibition on smoking in public spaces leaves a number of options, if one does not wish to get rained on, while remaining legal. They are, as far as I can make out, as follows:
1. Under a tree.
2. One’s own home, or the home of a similarly consenting adult.
3. A bus shelter, sunshade, shop awning, or similar accidentally conforming external shelter, if the owner does not object.
4. Dedicated external structures provided by one’s pub landlord, restaurateur or club committee.
Most public houses, restaurants, etc. blessed with external space will undoubtedly invest in a couple of external heaters, (until such devices are banned for their environmental profligacy), placed adjacent to a covered area or structure conforming to fig.2. and will probably leave it at that. As someone who believes that smoking is a communal cultural phenomenon worthy of celebration, I would suggest that this solution represents a short-sighted, not to say cowardly lack of creativity in the face of expanding governmental control.
It often seems that the highly insulated buildings, which we construct in order to protect overheated interiors, are a waste of time for most public leisure environments. We do not mind eating, drinking and having fun in the most partial of enclosures, at racetracks, watching the London Marathon or at a football match. Some of the most beautiful structures are the most direct.
Post 1/7, we may be fortunate enough to witness the construction of the pub garden without the pub. The building having shrunk to the condition of a servicing shed containing fridges, dishwashers and beer pumps, around which swirls a web of highly trained staff dressed appropriately for the season, glide through primrose-lined walkways and water features carrying trays of drinks. In winter a Christmas fair. In summer, a garden picnic with Sky Sports and your own banquet.
I foresee a time when the average London street will be notched with well-tended, perhaps multi-storey, green spaces. The revenue from the sale of alcohol and tobacco will form a sustainable cash stream for the maintenance of such verdant environments: after all gin palaces were not built for peanuts.