Prince Charles speaks out at conference against non-vernacular development and ‘egotistical’ signature architects

Prince Charles has warned the government that it risks repeating the “dreadful mistakes” of the 1960s unless it buys in to the urbanist agenda championed by his Prince’s Foundation.

In the week he was pilloried by the Cabinet for his views on education, the Prince launched his own attack on development that relied on abstract ideas instead of a sense of place, in a Prince’s Foundation conference on sustainable design.

Charles said there had to be a balance between the ODPM’s need to build 200,000 extra houses in the South-east by 2016 and what he called “slow building” – development that respects local vernacular.

In a thinly veiled warning over the government’s commitment to build houses quickly, he said: “The built environment can no longer be a machine for living. The fast building movement will strangle the world unless we look at diversity above mass production.”

Charles cited a recent conference he had addressed in Italy on the importance of “slow food”, a movement to safeguard regional diversity in cuisine. He called for a similar attitude to be taken with development.

He said: “Most standardised development lacks individual character. We need each community to develop its own character.”

The Prince also slammed critics of his Poundbury development in Dorset, based on traditional urban forms, and blasted the approach of some modernist architects.

It puzzles me why some architects need to be egotistical

Prince Charles

He said: “It puzzles me why there is a taboo against development being the same as what has come before, and why some architects feel the need to be egotistical by reflecting their own presence.”

Charles also stressed that off-site manufacturing had to be coupled with local input if it was to produce effective urban areas as well as cheaper development.

Earlier in the day, Keith Hill, planning minister, said the government hoped to combine speed and quality by manufacturing 80% of all new houses’ components off-site and focusing on design details in the remaining 20%.

Charles added that the way to produce sustainable developments fast was to follow the enquiry by design method of community consultation and use coding – particularly US academic Chris Alexander’s “scientific” codes.

Dismissing criticism of codes, he said: “How can you produce soaring sentences but not base it on syntax? The codes will allow complex forms to be replicated, and show how even complex order can respect diversity.”

  • The Prince’s Foundation met East Lancashire council this week over areas marked for demolition under the housing renewal pathfinder.