Prince Charles Gives Speech on Architecture

  May 13, 2009 at 7:43 pm by

Prince Charles gave a speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) last night to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the organisation. He has a long history of controversial ideas about architecture, particularly modern architecture, going back to his comment in the early 1980s that the winning design for a proposed addition to the National Gallery was akin to “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of an elegant and much-loved friend.” The design was dropped as a result of the Prince’s criticism, and he and the modern-architecture community have been at loggerheads ever since. They accuse him of being idealistic and out of touch, and he accuses them of being insensitive and self-centred.

His crusade against modernism flared up again recently when he objected to the proposed modernist design for a housing scheme to be erected on the site of the Chelsea Barracks and supported an alternative design by one of his favourite architects, Quinlan Terry. He used his royal connections to write privately to the royal family of Qatar, which owns the site, to express concerns about the proposal.

Set against this background, Tuesday’s speech was awaited with some interest. There had been calls by some RIBA members, particularly Will Alsop, to boycott the speech in protest against what they feel is unjustified meddling by the Prince in the Chelsea Barracks development. However, the turnout was unaffected and the Prince spoke to a full house. His tone was conciliatory, but his message about the inappropriateness of much modern architecture was unchanged. He likened the practice of modern architecture to the short-term approach and unsustainable practices that have characterised the financial sector in recent years and said, “Architecture defines the public realm, and it should help to define us as human beings, and to symbolize the way we look at the world.”

The reactions to his speech were mixed, with architects appearing to conclude that while the Prince went out of his way to assure the community that he was not interested in fighting them, his basic opinions have remained essentially unchanged since his 1984 “monstrous carbuncle” speech at RIBA’s 150th anniversary.

For more details about Prince Charles’s interest in architecture, see this thread. Read a transcript of his speech here.

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