Prince Charles' criticism of today's 'carbuncles' has more substance than his 1984 diatribe against modern architecture
Many architects will no doubt dismiss Prince Charles’ speech on new buildings in old places as another rant against contemporary architecture and a deliberate attack on their profession.
This time round, however, there is more substance to the Prince’s views than in his notorious “monstrous carbuncle” diatribe of 1984, which precipitated a nationwide reaction by planning authorities against modern architecture.
So although the Prince’s nostalgic predilection for traditional architecture surfaces at various points in the speech, many of his arguments are shared by established organisations such as English Heritage, CABE and even Lord Rogers’ Urban Renaissance report of 1999.
He is also up to speed on today’s campaign for sustainable development.
We can therefore pick out the prince’s arguments one by one and see how reasonable or idiosyncratic they are.
“Sustainability means building for the long-term – 100 years rather than 20 years”. Fine, but only worth the extra capital invested if linked to his second point that buildings should be designed and built to be adaptable and flexible and should reuse existing buildings wherever possible.
“It is worth building in a manner that fits the place, in terms of materials used, proportion and layouts and climate, ecology and building practices.”Also fine, though such approaches have to be thought through rationally and not just borrowed from old buildings we have grown accustomed to.
“It is worth building beautifully in a manner that builds upon tradition.”Here comes that predictable dose of royal nostalgia. Who other than the heir to a dynastic throne thinks beauty is synomymous with tradition?
The composition of a harmonious whole, rather than the erection of singular objects of architectural or corporate will which merely panders to ego-centric imperatives.”Well, OK, as long as it’s not Prince Charles, or his loyal retinue of local councillors, who are to judge on what is “a harmonious whole”.
“Local distinctiveness should flourish and traditional skills should be rediscovered.”Whoops – it’s tradition setting off those alarm bells again.
“Well-designed public spaces, a mix of shops and services within walking distance, values of hierarchy, legibility and proportion, integration of high-quality private, social and affordable housing.”Straight out of Rogers’ Urban Renaissance report, isn’t it? Except that Charles can’t resist lobbing in the instruction “applying the lessons tradition teaches us.”
Concentrate office towers in Canary Wharf, “rather than overshadowing Wren’s and Hawksmoor’s churches”.Well, to turn Charles’ argument back on him, three decades of office towers have now become the tradition in the City of London. But the more prominent the towers are, the better they should be designed, and there’s little evidence of this.
So all in all, strip out the tradition, and there’s a lot to discuss here.