His second gripe was more interesting. The prince used the fact that Stephen Lawrence was considering a career in architecture to upbraid the profession for not appointing more members from ethnic minorities. Although Charles may be right to raise the matter, the Stephen Lawrence memorial is not as appropriate a venue to air the ethnic minority issue as it might seem. For one thing, the difficulty of becoming an architect is as much tied up with class as race.
A disadvantaged family of whatever ethnic background bringing up children in the concrete slum an architect designed for them will be unlikely to be well disposed towards the profession. And even if they were, what remotely disadvantaged family, of whatever origin, is going to encourage their young to undertake seven years of training in the hope of finding employment in a profession where they have no connections, and where there is very little evidence that anyone is making any real money? A legal secretary can walk into a £24 000 job. You'd need to be a lucky architect with 10 years' hard work behind you before you could count on earning that.
Some young architects take jobs in prestigious practices where they accept long hours and low pay. But they can only do this if they are in a position to subsidise themselves.
Twenty-five years ago, two or three of you could incubate a private practice while working for a local authority, and then subcontract a largish job to yourselves that would allow you to set your practice up. Since the demise of the public sector, which used to employ nearly half of us, and offered a civil service career structure for those with talent but no business acumen, you have to be, or know, a genius, and hope to win a competition.
And if working-class teenagers overcome those barriers, why would they not go into the law? Plenty of not-especially-brilliant barristers of my age are billing £250 000 a year as self-employed sole practitioners. I need a full-time and part-time assistant to bill half that. I doubt whether any architects earn anything approaching that money without being partners in large businesses. Few fly their own helicopter.
Having said all that, I don't mean to suggest that race is not a factor. I had a very philosophical Jewish bookkeeper for a few years and I asked him why, when Jews were so well represented at the top of other professions, there were so few Jewish architects until very recently. He said most Jewish communities started out as refugees and were forced by circumstances to travel light.
The difficulty of becoming an architect is as much tied up with class as race
To start off with, they were used as cheap labour. In order to practice any sort of profession, they had to seek clients in their own community. This is where they will be best understood.
Not until they become established there can they ply their trade in the host nation. The problem is that you can get sick and need a doctor getting off the boat, but you need to be really established before you need an architect.
It may take many generations before a community is ready to suggest that its young embark on a profession that depends on clients having a long-term view about projects involving huge amounts of capital.
Prince Charles' other problem, the one about the poverty of house design, also suffers from oversimplification. What he did not address in his speech was the fact that most spec developers are only interested in building something as close as possible to their standard design, as cheaply as possible, irrespective of the location. Neither does he understand that builders are not obliged to appoint architects to submit applications – and until they are, it is unlikely that they will.
Those criticisms aside, the prince's interest in architecture is to be welcomed. His description of the proposed Sainsbury extension to the National Gallery as a "carbuncle" in 1984 actually raised the level of architectural debate, and although the RIBA's nose was put out of joint, a lot of very good architecture has been built since. On the other hand, Poundbury, although more charming than most spec development, at least shows that repro is not really the way forward.
Gus Alexander runs his own architectural practice in Clerkenwell, London