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Editorial View: A primer from the Prince

On The Prince of Wales’ ten principles for sustainable urban growth

Some 25 years ago, the AR produced a special issue entitled ‘A Primer for the Prince’. It recognised that in Britain, The Prince of Wales had come to exert a considerable influence on architecture, greatly increasing public awareness of the built environment and encouraging debate about the character of buildings and cities.

Published in December 1990, the Primer was an attempt to show how the Prince’s pleas for humanity in architecture could be reconciled with aspects of Modernism, so that discussion was not simply reduced to an entrenched exchange about styles. It elaborated on a series of subjects, such as scale, decoration, materials, enclosure and contrast from a contemporary perspective, but also showed how past and present could amicably and fruitfully co-exist. It made the further point that pastiche historicism, which at the time many developers felt would appeal to the Prince’s ‘traditional’ sensitivities, could be as insensitive to both its context and occupants as many of the most overbearing creations of ’60s Modernism.

Since that time, the Prince has shown he intends to lead by example through a series of pioneering initiatives, notably the establishment of The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in east London and the ongoing development of Poundbury, an urban extension to Dorchester, which puts human beings at the heart of the planning process. Clearly, he is still actively engaged with architecture and urban design, so in this issue we present what might be described as ‘A Primer from the Prince’ in which he outlines ten principles for sustainable urban growth that value the best aspects of tradition.

Yet this is not some rose-tinted view of the past as the answer to the problems of modern life. ‘I have lost count of the times that I have been accused of wanting to turn the clock back to some Golden Age,’ the Prince writes. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth. My concern is the future. We face the terrifying prospect by 2050 of another three billion people on this planet needing to be housed. We have to work out how we will create resilient, truly sustainable and human-scale urban environments that are land-efficient, use low carbon materials and do not depend so completely on the car.’

The Prince’s thesis is that we need to reconnect with a deeper and more resonant sense of tradition that has shaped lives, landscapes and communities over centuries. It also asserts that Nature has much to teach us through its patterns and processes, and that we ignore its lessons at our peril.

His principles echo many of the sentiments expressed in the AR’s recent well-received Big Rethink campaign, which argued for a reconceptualisation of architecture, not merely as an elitist and irrelevant discipline, but as a fundamental way of connecting with the deeper social, ecological and cultural forces that define and shape our lives. It’s been said before, but architecture is a social art and the Prince’s contribution to this crucial debate suggests that he knows this too.

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