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Should architects boycott Prince Charles?

Razia Iqbal | 13:07 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009

Prince of WalesDétente is in short supply in the world of architecture.

A quarter of a century since Prince Charles made his now infamous "monstrous carbuncle" speech denouncing modern architecture, he has been invited to give another lecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The event, which takes place tomorrow night, is sold out - but in recent days, prominent architects have been calling on their colleagues to boycott the speech.

The background to this is The Prince of Wales' intervention is a proposed housing development in Chelsea. The design, commissioned by the Qatari royal family, is by Rogers Stirk Harbour, and has been derided by the Prince as "unsuitable" and "unsympathetic". What has incensed leading architects is that the Prince has written to representatives of the Qatari royal family suggesting an alternative plan by his favoured architect - the classicist, Quinlan Terry.

contruction_300.jpg Construction on the former site of the Chelsea Barracks began last year

Leading the charge to boycott his speech is Peter Ahrends, whose firm's design for the National Gallery extension was the target of the carbuncle speech. Soon after, the plan was rejected in favour of one by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

Now, Mr Ahrends is focussing on the intervention over the Chelsea building on the grounds that the democratic process and procedure of planning is being interfered with.

The speech the Prince made 25 years ago had huge ramifications for architecture and individual architects. He opened a national debate on modern architecture which struck a chord with the public mood. It may well happen again this time around.

Broad and mainstream interest in architecture is greater than it has ever been. Many architects are concerned with community-led planning and make it their business to be concerned with the issue of climate change. In that, at least, there is common ground with the Prince. And his charge against mediocrity has over the last two decades been dismissed in the shape, variety and excitement of buildings which have emerged.

To avoid the embarrassment of empty chairs tomorrow - though I doubt Mssrs Ahrends and co will succeed in persuading everyone to boycott - surely RIBA should re-cast the event, not as a lecture, but as a genuine debate between Prince Charles and his supporters and his detractors.

I'd queue to hear that.


  • Comment number 1.

    As one who has lived in New York City 1950s public housing in Harlem & now lives in a Bronx 1939-43-built private version of public housing projects, I fully agree with Prince Charles. "Tower-blocks" are designed as inhumane prisons to force the working-class into the life-styles determined to be acceptable by social workers. The Robert Moses theory of public architecture, still alive now, is grim, restrictive, ugly, & mean-spirited.

  • Comment number 2.

    The Prince has a point - those steel and glass buildings will soon become dated. And bricks, stone and slate will last longer. I would much rather live in a home like those in the Prince's design than some pseudo-futuristic monstrosity that is likely to fall down in less than 50 years!

  • Comment number 3.

    Charlie needs to remember what his role, and the role of the Royal Family is in the UK. Whilst we still have them they are 'constitutional', as in that have no real power, nor should they. His interfering and imposing of his own arcane architectural tastes through 'the family name', with a preference for a chocolate box ye Olde England that no longer exists should only add to calls to rid us of this anachronism. What is old fashioned now was once modern. What is modern now will one day be old-fashioned, and so it goes on. It's called progress and is something Charlie is clearly against! The 'monstrous carbuncle' he condemned years ago was a spectacular piece of architecture that would have attracted people purely because of the design of the building, forgetting about what was inside. In years to come it would have been seen to be a classic. Thanks to him it doesn't exist and we have missed out!

  • Comment number 4.

    Just yesterday I was watching the newly discovered Betjeman film 'A Poet Goes North.' He describes the modern buildings as against the old as 'Money-grabbing slabs with lift machinery left like parcels left on the top' of a desk! To him and to me these new buildings spell nothing but "CASH." Incompetent and ignorant pseuo-architects working from unbelievable bursuries from even more ignorant and incompetent charities stinking of modern vulgarity and commercialism.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is interesting that Mr Ahrends thinks the 'democratic' process of planning is being interfered with. To me, a democratic process is one where the people have a right to their say. Mr Ahrends clearly believes this is only the case if they agree with him.

    If I were to write to the Qatari Royal family, expressing what I can well believe was a well thought through and thorough opinion of the new project, and giving a suggestion of an alternative, I wonder if Mr Ahrends would be as vocally opposed to my interfering? Or is it simply that he still smarts from never having built his Carbuncle?

  • Comment number 6.

    LOL if it is just peter I'll build another forgettable piece of modernistic , waiting to be dated, trash that is complaining then Charlie must be on the right track.

    Cocteau it is a bit like your name. Dated.
    Ahrends buildings like I say above have that look of just waiting to be Dated.

    Oh in about 10 years time.

    then for the rest of it's life we have another dated piece of rubbish.
    the psychology behind architecture is interesting.

    you can go on about chocolate boxes but when it comes down to it. most would rather live in a chocolate box house over a office that has been vacated.

    Which is what most of his buildings look like

  • Comment number 7.

    2 was reading up and notice you feel the same.

    Ahrends designs for the looks on his computer. like so many buildings these days.
    The textural reality is a boring place to be.
    The computer models don't really deal with the reality of materials.
    And as such the building gets designed around the program not the people.

    5 look at his portfolio there.
    Wow what a bunch of BOOORRRIIINNNGGG.

    I'd give him 5 minutes with the 1 st year at brooks until they are all asleep.

    Both ahrends and the slightly more appealing Roger stark harbour both have one thing in common.
    Their buildings look like the mutoid waste company should squat them.


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