So is he about to aim another missile at the architectural profession? Or will he finally offer it an olive branch?
As the red carpet is rolled out at the RIBA next Tuesday in preparation for the Prince of Wales’ lecture to mark its 175th anniversary, speculation about what he is going say could not be greater. It was 25 years ago, of course, at the RIBA’s 150th anniversary that Charles delivered his “carbuncle” speech, the effects of which were out of all proportion to what was, after all, the expression of one man’s aesthetic preferences. The struggle between modernism, postmodernism and tradition acquired a new intensity, and architects such as Rogers and Foster were forced into exile as developers scurried to commission faux-classical buildings.
The build-up to the talk, though, could not have been better arranged by Max Clifford himself. The row over Charles’ intervention in the design of Chelsea Barracks has been fairly bitter, and the likelihood is that he will stick to relatively uncontroversial topics, such as sustainability. For one thing, the public debate between all things modern and all things traditional has moved on since 1984; developers and local authorities have turned to self-consciously iconic architecture to anchor large regeneration projects and the middle classes have embraced Grand Designs, so Charles is unlikely to win much support for an attack on modern architecture per se. And, as Robert Adam points out in our feature, all sides have more in common then they might think. Pretty much every species of architect has embraced low-carbon design, and the prince is a champion of sustainability in all its forms. Indeed, the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment has led the way on tackling new ways to upgrade the existing building stock.
Jointly, the profession and the patron are a force to be reckoned with. But such an alliance is only going to work if Charles takes the opportunity to recognise that Britain is home to some world-class design practices. What’s more, the problem of producing flexible, responsive low-energy buildings can’t be solved by turning to the techniques of our ancestors – although they will no doubt play a part. We also need to push the boundaries of design. Why can’t the prince accept that? After all, he has just used Facebook to promulgate his latest message on deforestation, in a video that features a frog created by the film industry’s most advanced computer animation. Surely technology, function and design can be expressed in a variety of forms and work within many traditions – some of them brand new ones.
Producing flexible, responsive low-energy buildings can’t be solved by turning to the techniques of our ancestors – although they will no doubt play a part
Making the most of the downturn
And while we’re on the subject of fresh thinking, now must be the time for every boardroom to refresh their business practices. As we report on page 36, efficiency savings are likely to come from improved business processes, incremental improvements and the use of mature technologies, such as building information modelling, that firms have shunned because there’s never been enough hours in the day to understand them. The last recession persuaded clients like Stanhope to pioneer construction management as a way of taking more control over costs and ensuring that specialists got paid on time. This time round, Stanhope is putting its mind to another procurement issue: how to cushion the effects of the weak pound on the costs of imported materials. Many firms have been too busy fighting fires to follow suit, and some may be doing that for a while. But somehow managers have to find time to work out how innovation can be used to ameliorate their reduced fees, margins and tender prices. It’s no longer an option. It’s essential.
Denise Chevin, editor
The printed version of this article states that the Prince is to give his speech to the RIBA on Wednesday. As the article above now states, the Prince will actually give his speech on Tuesday.