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
The article by Prince Charles follows on from decades of engagement with the topic of architecture, which infamously began 30 years ago when he described the proposed extension to the National Gallery in London as a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend. Following on five years later was his book "A Vision of Britain," and in the early 1990s construction began on Poundbury, the Leon Krier-designed extension to Dorchester, built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and in accordance with Prince Charles' personal architectural principles.
In his essay, Prince Charles sets out those principles in a ten-point manifesto:
- Developments must respect the land: they should not be intrusive and should fit the landscape they occupy.
- Architecture is a language: new designs should abide by grammatical rules to avoid dissonance with existing structures.
- Scale is also key: new buildings should respect both the human scale and the scale of the surrounding buildings.
- Harmony − the playing together of all parts: richness comes from diversity, but buildings should be in tune with their neighbours.
- The creation of well-designed enclosures: enclosed spaces are both more visually satisfying and encourage walking.
- Materials also matter: materials should be natural and local, drawing on traditional local styles
- Signs, lights and utilities. They can be easily overused: it is possible instead to control traffic using 'events' in the road layout which cause drivers to slow down.
- The pedestrian must be at the centre of the design process: streets must be reclaimed from the car.
- Density: though density is critical, it can be achieved through traditional typologies such as the terrace or the mansion block.
- Flexibility: rigid conventional planning should be avoided in favour of flexible schemes.
Reaction to these principles has been mixed. BD Online reports a collection of architects who "grudgingly accept" Prince Charles' ideas, with many pointing out that most of his ten principles can be applied to contemporary architecture, without recourse to traditionalism. Others point out that the nature of his position and the power he wields is undemocratic, with Robin Nicholson of Cullinan Studio saying that "the only problem is that he speaks from a position of untouchable power." Prince Charles has previously been heavily criticised by Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and many more for his tendency to influence projects which he disagrees with.
Writing for the Architects' Journal, Patrick Lynch of Lynch Architects says "despite certain reservations, I have to say that I think that it is on balance a good thing for a public figure to engage directly with the principles of architecture," adding that "architecture remains a subject with a history and a tradition, most of which we are almost totally ignorant of today. The question we face is how relevant this is to our society today."
Opposing Lynch though, Alister Scott argues that "as Prince Charles suggests the language of planning and architecture does need to be more inclusive but it does need to be understood; basically we need to build better places but for more people but the examples all point towards design credentials for a well-heeled Poundbury settlement than a major town or city with its attendant problems of deprivation, town centre decay and stagnation and lack of investment."
The most complete response comes from architecture critic Douglas Murphy, whose article for the Guardian states that on reading Prince Charles' essay it was "hard to know whether to go apoplectic or simply roll one’s eyes: 'It’s that man again…'"
"It wasn’t just his power that made Charles’ polemics hit home: they coincided with Britain’s great lurch to the right," argues Murphy, adding that "Charles and his friends like to portray themselves as the underdogs, as victims of a leftie conspiracy of inhumane modernism, but they couldn’t be more well connected, and their polemics in favour of twee cottage architecture resonate strongly with a public taste for the picturesque and sentimental, and the spurious notion of What People Really Want."
Finally, describing Prince Charles' ten-point manifesto as "essentially a mix of the sensible, the tautological and the downright sinister," Murphy goes on to give his own principles, including "the city belongs to everyone," "architecture is not a language," "honesty is still a virtue," "the street isn’t everything," and perhaps most critically his final point: "change is coming: the next century will be pivotal for humanity, and architecture will play a huge role. Cute cottages with nice local stonework won’t help."
Are Prince Charles' pronouncements on architecture welcome in contemporary architectural discourse? Leave your comments below.