Editor-At-Large: It's time to settle a score

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The Independent Online

Ever think you're cursed? I'm convinced that five tons of bad luck have been dumped on me, and I can't for the life of me work out why. OK, I'm loud, opinionated, ambitious, single-minded and a workaholic. But I've got a decent bunch of friends, I've done my bit for charity and I can be nice to young and old, despite my forbidding exterior. Ironically, in view of the horror story I am about to tell, I have been proud to raise the public's awareness of good design by acting as the founding patron for Architecture Week, which has just seen hundreds of events taking place all over the country.

So how did I choose an architect with an ego bigger than mine and a temperament of even more epic proportions to design my new house? He's so achingly fashionable he's constantly being touted as Britain's "cutting-edge" designer. He's hip, charming, and I fell for it.

He's called David Adjaye, someone I dream of regularly ritually disembowelling or forcing to go through a nasty form of torture before mopping up the storm water in my living room with his designer sweaters. This is a man who published pictures of my house without my permission, and thought nothing of pompously renaming my home the "Fog House". Cheeky or what?

Four years ago it was all so different. We met, we swapped concepts and bonded. We got on famously at early meetings, even when I insisted the project could not go over budget because I couldn't afford it. Then, reality. The first thing you learn with certain architects is that they appear incapable of grasping the concept of sticking to a budget or a timescale. You are merely the means to exercise their talent, the cash cow that funds their aspirations.

When the project went £100,000 over budget there was always a good reason, according to Mr Adjaye. When it was six months late and I had nowhere to live, there was a really good reason, according to his waffling minions. When I finally moved into my beautiful glass and steel house, it leaked in the bedroom, ruining thousands of pounds worth of curtains. Then the roof leaked all over the living room floor, and it has continued to leak for 18 months.

By then Mr Adjaye was involved in other projects and lost interest in me and the "Fog House". We were discarded like old lovers as he received further affirmation of his creativity, busily designing houses for far more famous people. The white rubber floor he recommended I install quickly bubbled up and scratched, but no one could ever say whose fault it was. The manufacturers blamed the installers. The architect, of course, was not to blame. Every tread on the wooden staircase Mr Adjaye designed has worn so badly I had to fit steel edgings, but somehow it was never his fault. I had to re-apply for planning permission to finish my ground floor and deal with all the defects with other designers and builders, spending thousands of pounds in legal fees to apportion blame.

The kitchen is extraordinary: drawers open across the sink, there is no-where for a rubbish bin, not enough cupboard space and the extractor fan is in the wrong place. The door to my top floor was too narrow: my sofa was lifted in with a crane.

In spite all of everything, I remain a loyal fan of modern architecture. This is the second house I have had built and so I know the process can be tricky. But nothing prepared me for the refusal of my architect to accept any responsibility whatsoever. The final icing on the cake was when one of the structural glass panels in my living room sprouted a large crack last March on one of the coldest nights of the winter. No one, from the glass manufacturer to the builder to the designer, has called me and said sorry, or even bothered to tell me when it is going to be replaced.

I have consumed dozens of packets of Nurofen Plus over the five year duration of this project. I have crates of acrimonious correspondence, boxes of lawyers' letters and opinions from no less than three surveyors and two other architects. My house has put wrinkles on my face and raised my blood pressure. In short, it has damaged my health.

People who commission modern architecture are braver than they realise. It is a process that is painful and distressing. Since my woes started to become public many others have called me to tell me their horror stories - of display cases that didn't work for their intended purpose, indoor pools that leaked, building costs that grew like Topsy. Even with new workmen the curse continues. The new living room floor was installed while I was on holiday last week. When I returned it was still wet, and so badly laid that it will have to be replaced. More chaos. I figure I will have spent another £75,000, not to mention at least a day a week of my time for nearly two years, in sorting out all these problems. So can anyone tell me why architects are so revered? Isn't it about time clients started to fight back? My house will soon be finished, and it will be beautiful. I will see to that personally.

* * *

Brian Blackwell was the student who murdered his parents in order to fund a spending spree in America with his girlfriend. This week the judge accepted the evidence from five expert witnesses and reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mr Blackwell was said to be suffering from a severe case of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), named after the legend of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. NPD divides mental health groups and psychologists. Many think that people who have it can tell right from wrong and simply lack empathy with others.

According to the psychologist and author Oliver James, interviewed on the BBC Newsnight programme last week, 80 per cent of convicted criminals suffer from NPD, and 74 per cent of prison inmates have at least two personality disorders. He implied that in America, where parents praise children endlessly over the most trivial things, they are creating an unrealistic sense of self-worth and storing up trouble for later.

This seems a touch hysterical, to say the least. Most newspaper headlines seemed to imply that Brian Blackwell was a "perfect" or "brilliant" son who killed his doting parents. But that implies he knew what he was doing, when all the evidence suggests otherwise. It is a tragic case, and one that raises important issues about whether upbringing can affect mental stability.

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