Architect famous for provoking Prince Charles’ carbuncle gibe ‘never recovered’

One of the biggest names in late 20th century British architecture, Ahrends Burton & Koralek, is set to be dissolved in the UK next week after more than 50 years
in practice.

The critically acclaimed firm, responsible for buildings such as the British Embassy in Moscow, will be forever remembered for being on the receiving end of Prince Charles’ most famous architectural intervention when he branded its proposed National Gallery extension a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”.

Along with heralding a schism between the Prince and modern architects that persists to this day, that 1984 speech to the RIBA killed off ABK’s National Gallery scheme and stunted the development of the practice, which was then in the top league of architects in the country.

I don’t think they ever recovered from prince charles’ comments

Jack Pringle, former RIBA president

Former RIBA president Jack Pringle told Building: “It’s a huge pity. I don’t think ABK ever recovered from Prince Charles’ comments despite their efforts.

“It was an enormous impediment to them when they were at the height of their powers.”

Founder Paul Koralek, who - along with the two other founders Peter Ahrends and Richard Burton - is now retired, agreed the speech “damaged us hugely”.

“There was a period of time when we just couldn’t get work,” he said. “I’m pretty sure there were big commissions that we just didn’t get … it would have been a different scenario had he not intervened.”

Koralek said the only upside was that the firm’s office in the Republic of Ireland - which is continuing to practice in Dublin - was immune to the Prince’s criticism and may
even have benefitted from it.

“One of our big clients there said that as republicans, Prince Charles’ attitude endeared them to us and he was only half joking,” he said.

Koralek added that more recently, ABK in London had “not managed to survive” the stepping down of the three founding partners combined with the downturn in the market.

Leading critic Ken Powell, who has written a book on the practice, published next month as part of the RIBA’s 20th Century Architects series, said the firm had been wound down over a number of years and that it was “probably time to call it a day”.

“They produced some incredibly broad work and some very good buildings,” he said. “In a way, they were pioneers of high tech but they always had a more humane edge and were very influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.”