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.
Prince Charles: The Latest Architecture and News
In the 1960s James Stirling asked Ludwig Mies van der Rohe why he didn’t design utopian visions for new societies, like those of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City or Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse. Mies replied that he wasn’t interested in fantasies, but only in “making the existing city beautiful.” When Stirling recounted the conversation several decades later it was to the audience of a public enquiry convened in London – he was desperately trying to save Mies’ only UK design from being rejected in planning.
It couldn’t be done: the scheme went unbuilt; the drawings were buried in a private archive. Now, for the first time in more than thirty years, Mies’ Mansion House Square will be presented to the public in both a forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)—Mies van der Rohe and James Stirling: Circling the Square—and, if it is successful, a book currently being funded through Kickstarter by the REAL foundation.
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.
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…