After the proposed boycott by chest-thumping starchitects and a media onslaught that challenged Peter and Jordan for column inches, the Prince of Wales’ speech at the RIBA turned out to be something of an anti-climax
To a packed house of designers and industry figures, Prince Charles delivered a quiet, low-key speech that sought to repair ties with the RIBA and emphasise the importance of sustainable, humanist architecture.
But it did include a pointed jibe at Lord Rogers, the designer of the planned Chelsea Barracks redevelopment. Charles highlighted the fact that “Pritzker prize-winning” modern architects often live in classical buildings, as Lord Rogers does. It was Charles’ decision to write to the backers of the Chelsea Barracks scheme that did much to fuel the controversy behind the speech.
However, he started with an apology – of a sort. Referring to his famous “carbuncle” speech to the RIBA in 1984, he said: “I am sorry if I somehow left the faintest impression that I wished to kickstart some kind of ‘style war’ between classicists and modernists.”
However, he soon returned to his favourite theme – the creative poverty of the “modernist experiment” when compared with traditional architecture. It was left to RIBA president Sunand Prasad to deliver a respectful riposte (see below).
The reception to the speech was muted, but generally positive. Robert Adam, the neo-classicist architect, said he was “very pleased”. He said: “He reached a hand out to the industry. It was a very positive speech, and really showed up those saddoes who didn’t turn up.”
He reached a hand out. It really showed up those saddoes who didn’t turn up
However, Bill Dunster, designer of eco-home BedZed, found the prince’s criticism of “eco-bling” old-fashioned. He said: “The ‘bling’ he dismissed can play a major part in helping this country reach its obligations in achieving Code for Sustainable Homes level six. His comments were extremely unhelpful and poorly researched.”
Richard Steer, chairman of event sponsor Gleeds, said he felt it was a “conciliatory” speech. He said: “It went down well, even though it wasn’t as exciting as it might have been.
He is 25 years older than when he made the last speech, and I think architects too have moved on since then. They’re not as precious as they once were.”
It was also announced that the RIBA Trust and the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment would collaborate on a series of seminars next year. Whether they will reap as much press attention as this speech remains to be seen.
Chelsea Barracks: the debate continues
As Charles spoke about the ideological conflict between traditionalists and modernists, the debate was being enacted for real just a few minutes away.
The Belgravia Residents Association (BRA) voted unanimously on Tuesday to petition Westminster council over Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ designs for Chelsea Barracks.
More than 100 local residents passed a motion urging the council to reject Rogers’ designs for the development, which Charles has privately lobbied against, and consider alternative plans by traditionalist architect Quinlan Terry.
Randa Hanna, head of planning at the BRA, said: “We appreciate the concessions that have been made, but they don’t go far enough.”