ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this editorial from AR’s January 2015 issue, AR Editor Catherine Slessor reflects on The Prince of Wales’ ten principles for sustainable urban growth, which sparked widespread debate when they were published online near the end of December, arguing that the Prince’s views are not just “some rose-tinted view of the past as the answer to the problems of modern life.”
Some 25 years ago, the AR produced a special issue entitled “A Primer for the Prince”. It recognised that in Britain, The Prince of Wales had come to exert a considerable influence on architecture, greatly increasing public awareness of the built environment and encouraging debate about the character of buildings and cities.
In the last few weeks, a number of reactionary architectural commentators have come out of the woodwork to denounce what they see as the currently negative direction of contemporary architecture. They claim that architecture needs to be “rebuilt” or that it is “imploding.” From their indications, architecture is on life-support, taking its last breath. The critique they offer is that contemporary architecture has become (or always was?) insensitive to users, to site conditions, to history—hardly a novel view. Every few years, this kind of frontal assault on the value of contemporary architecture is launched, but the criticisms this time seem especially shallow and misplaced. Surveying the contemporary global architecture scene, I actually feel that we’re in a surprisingly healthy place, if you look beyond the obvious showpieces. We’ve escaped from the overt dogmas of the past, we’ve renewed our focus on issues of the environment and social agency, we’re more concerned than ever with tectonics and how to build with quality. But the perennial critics of contemporary architecture appear not to have examined that deeply, nor that thoughtfully either. And unfortunately the various rebuttals to their critiques, ostensibly in support of modern and experimental architecture, have been ham-handed and poorly argued.
Last weekend, the Architectural Review published an article by the Prince of Wales in which he outlined his stance on architecture, reiterating his belief that a return to traditional design principles is necessary to enable sustainable urban growth that meets human needs. In the 2,000 word essay, Prince Charles argues that “we face the terrifying prospect by 2050 of another three billion people on this planet needing to be housed,” adding that rather than ”wanting to turn the clock back to some Golden Age” as he is often accused, he is focused on the needs of the future. At the conclusion of his article, he outlines ten principles for architecture which meet the requirements of his vision.
As is often the case with Prince Charles’ pronouncements on architecture, the article has prompted a strong reaction from members of the profession, with responses ranging from Robert Sakula saying “if more people cared as much as he does we would have a better architectural culture,” to the response of Birmingham City University’s Alister Scott, who said ”there is clear evidence of elitism and his lack of empathy with the problems facing his peasantry.”
Read on after the break for more on the Prince’s article and the reaction from architects
A design by Squire and Partners for the controversial Chelsea Barracks site has been approved for planning. The approval comes five years after an earlier scheme by Richard Rogers was derailed by Prince Charles, sparking a row over what some perceived as the Prince abusing his status by bypassing proper planning procedure. Since then the plans were put on hold due to the UK‘s poor economy, before being resurrected last year.
Read more about the new plans after the break
To mark the 30th anniversary of Prince Charles‘ famous “Carbuncle Speech”, last week the RIBA held a discussion focusing on the speech’s impact on British architecture. The speech in which the prince protested the design of a proposed extension to the National Gallery has been seen by some as expanding the debate around architectural quality, but the panelists on the night disagreed with this view: Owen Hatherley said “The idea he broadened the debate is curious. He shut it down.” Similarly, Charlie Luxton commented “He turned the debate from one of quality to one of style – and architecture suffered.” You can read more of the panelists’ views on BD Online.
Developers in London are so afraid of encountering opposition from the Prince of Wales that they seek his approval before applying for planning permission – so says Richard Rogers, as revealed by this article in BD. Prince Charles, who is not shy about promoting his traditional tastes, has a sometimes difficult relationship with the architecture community, and Rogers previously accused him of “an abuse of power” when he was ousted from his Chelsea Barracks Project. You can read the full article here.
‘What is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend.”
It’s easy to see why British Architects get their hackles raised when it comes to Prince Charles. The oft-quoted gem above, said in reference to a proposed extension to the National Gallery in 1984, is one of hundreds of such Architectural criticisms Prince Charles has made over the years. Which wouldn’t matter of course, if, like any average Architectural layman’s opinions, his words didn’t have much weight.
His do. They’ve resulted in the intervention, squelching, and/or redesign of at least 5 major plans over the last twenty years. But let’s not write off Charles just yet.
With the Queen’s Jubilee ceremoniously having finished yesterday, the conversation analyzing her legacy has begun. And while London’s towering, cutting-edge high rises (a la Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Zaha Hadid), will be the shining examples of Elizabeth’s reign – I’d like to suggest something, and raise a few hackles, myself…
Curious for more? Keep reading about Prince Charles’ unlikely influence on Architecture, after the break…
On holiday in Dorset last month, I happened to drive past Poundbury in Dorset, UK. Poundbury is Prince Charles’s attempt to create his architectural and planning masterpiece next to Dorchester. I used the excuse of being up with my new baby at 7am to go and take some photos of it to show you here.
What can I say, it’s not great (I’ve changed that sentence so many times to try and balance the architectural lack of ambition versus the worthy aims of such a project). It’s a mish mash of styles from different centuries, all added together. It’s a toy town, a museum of a mythical past. There is no soul, no heart, a perfect example of the need for difference, for organic spaces created over time.
A group of ten architects, including Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, and Frank Gehry, signed a letter criticizing Prince Charles for talking against the construccion of luxury houses in Chelsea Barracks, London.
Prince Charles is against the modern design with glass and steel used by architects in the Chelsea district, and wants them to use a more traditional design using stones and bricks. The Sunday Times also said that Prince Charles showed his concern to Qatar’s royal family, owner of the site.
The design was developed by Richard Rogers, member of the House of Lords and known for projects like Heathrow’s Terminal 5, the Millenium Dome in London and the European Court of Human Rights. Rogers, with the other ten architects, accused Prince Charles of taking advantage of his royalty position to attack the architectural plans of the site.
This isn’t the first time that Prince Charles enters the architectural debate, strong supporter of Leon Krier’s New Urbanism.
Full text of the public letter to Prince Charles:
THE Prince of Wales’s intervention over the design of the former Chelsea Barracks site deserves more reasoned comment. It is essential in a modern democracy that private comments and behind-the-scenes lobbying by the prince should not be used to skew the course of an open and democratic planning process that is under way.
Proposals by Richard Rogers’s practice for the developers Qatari Diar were recently submitted for planning to Westminster city council. The scheme has been adapted and changed in response to comments from Westminster’s planning officers and extensive local consultation. Statutory bodies such as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the Greater London Authority have also been consulted. Westminster’s planning committee will meet and shortly deliver its verdict.
Its members should be left alone to decide whether the Rogers’s scheme is a fitting 21st-century addition to the fabric of London. The developers have chosen carefully in selecting the best architect for the sensitive project. Rogers and his team have played their part in engaging with the democratic process. The prince and his advisers should do the same. The process should be allowed to take its course; otherwise we risk condemning this critical site to years as an urban blight.
If the prince wants to comment on the design of this or any other project, we urge him to do so through the established planning consultation process. Rather than use his privileged position to intervene in one of the most significant residential projects likely to be built in London in the next five years, he should engage in an open and transparent debate.
Lord Foster, Foster and Partners, London, Pritzker Prize 1999
Zaha Hadid, Zaha Hadid Architects, London, Pritzker Prize 2004
Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Pritzker Prize 2001
Jean Nouvel, Jean Nouvel Architectes, Paris, Pritzker Prize 2008
Renzo Piano, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Genoa, Pritzker Prize 1998
Frank Gehry, Gehry Partners, Los Angeles, Pritzker Prize 1989
Sir Nicholas Serota, Commissioner, CABE 1999-2006
Richard Burdett, London School of Economics
David Adjaye, Adjaye Associates, London
Deyan Sudjic, Director, Design Museum, London