British newspapers and AR readers respond to Prince Charles’ 10 key principles for sustainable growth
Facing up to the future, written by HRH The Prince of Wales for the AR’s 2015 January issue
In response to Charles’s 10 key principles, these are mine:
● The city belongs to everyone.
Public space gets ever more murkily private; we need to redress the balance of who owns what. It’s people like the Prince that stand to lose out.
● Your home is not a castle.
We’d be a far more equal and civilised island if the desire for home ownership wasn’t pandered to at every turn.
● Architecture is not a language.
The idea of an underlying grammar to architecture implies urban life peaked in the piazzas of Renaissance Florence − a period of pestilence, gangster princes and public executions.
● But architecture can still be read. Buildings have no language. But the mightiest palace and the tiniest shed can tell us how those who build see the world and their place in it.
● Mimesis is not mimicry. Talented architects can work with classical traditions in contemporary architecture. It’s unlikely Charles would recognise this if he saw it.
● Honesty is still a virtue. The architectural era Charles helped usher in was filled with inane jokes and frivolous nonsense. Architecture doesn’t need to be fun.
● The street isn’t everything.
It’s right that the importance of the street is recognised, but we must avoid turning city centres into identical forests of privatised space.
● Nature is not our friend. On respecting nature, let us quote Werner Herzog: ‘There is a harmony [to nature] − it is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.’
● Harmony involves dissonance.Cities must improve their interactions with the natural world. This does not mean architecture must copy natural forms; rather it must reconcile itself with cycles of energy and material.
● Change is coming.
The next century will be pivotal for humanity, and architecture will play a huge role. Cute cottages with nice local stonework won’t help.
Douglas Murphy, The Guardian, 27 December
Although he has been widely criticised by fashionable architects, who accuse him of being a fusty reactionary, the Prince insists he is interested only in creating sustainable modern buildings that also draw on tradition.
Unveiling his top 10 design principles in an essay for the Architectural Review, the Prince hits back at his critics, denies wanting to recreate the past and lays out what he believes should be fundamental principles in architecture. In particular, he urges designers to study the circle.
The Sunday Times
Beauty is not only found in the rose window of a Gothic cathedral, but also in less posh places such as the layout and scale of a Baroque village or a present-day Swahili town if, for our occidental standards, sewage in the middle of the street is somehow solved. Prince Charles is in general taken as THE defender of elitism. He uses the professed success of Poundbury as the main pillar for his discourse, sadly manifesting himself as self-centred. However, his ‘10 key principles’ are wisely pragmatic and clearly what urbanism or new landscape urbanism need to become HUMAN.
Diego Montero Espina, AR online comment
Architecture is always political and we should not confuse architecture with its speculative use by aggressive markets and greedy patrons. I guess sustainable architecture, the undisputed beauty of traditional arts and qualitative crafts will flourish again in a human-centred world. A new humanism is urgently needed!
Cristina Donati, AR online comment
I am an Italian architect. I visited Poundbury just last summer: I have the greatest respect for HRH’s good intentions but I must say that it didn’t make a good impression on me. I think that Prince Charles’s eyes are still turned to the past. However, after recently being in London, I understand the concerns of HRH facing the current growth of the City of London. Poundbury and the City are for me two opposite realities but both to be rejected.
Alberto Zetti, AR online comment
I find little in these rules that intelligently informs architecture, though Prince Charles has said some intelligent things about planning. The problem with HRH’s position is, and it seems always has been, that he claims to respect the modern but relies almost entirely on outdated concepts to define ‘good architecture’. Take the Taj Mahal. It is not designed to a human scale, it is vast in every part. Nor does it respect its landscape. It emphasises verticality in contrast to the flat plain. Does this make it unsuitable? No. Clearly it is one of the world’s great buildings.
The great historic buildings of England, similarly, do not use local materials: they make great use of Portland Stone, quarried in Dorset and slate, from Wales and elsewhere, both shipped around the islands. We use brick, a high carbon intensity material which, likewise, is transported, and timber, which is seldom grown in the same place where it is used. The problems in architecture, it seems to me, are largely informed by a failure to build for the long term, to respect the climate, to balance cost with function (and create value) and to address the shifting demographics of our population. Poundbury, the gilded streets of Kensington and Chelsea, Mughal mausoleums and medieval cathedrals have little to teach us in this respect.
Richard Guy, AR online comment
HRH The Prince of Wales’ contribution to The Big Rethink (AR January 2015) is refreshingly clear, and goes straight to the all-important issue of beauty − a word that appeared not once in the 146 pages that went before. But his design proposals apply largely to individual buildings designed in a time-consuming way by expensive professionals.
There’s an important role for such design, but what about the vast majority of our building stock not individually designed by talented architects? A few stand-alone successes cannot create a delightful environment any more than a few tasty plums can make a bad pudding a good one.
The answer is surely obvious − the ‘traditional approaches to design’ mentioned by the Prince, which could be applied en masse by very ordinary builders. These approaches worked with conspicuous success for three centuries, and the results are still eminently practical even today.These buildings created a ‘satisfactory urban fabric’ with a ‘quiet, unobtrusive dignity’, as Peter Buchanan noted (AR January 2012). They used design devices that provided ‘experiential richness’ and ‘helped people relate to buildings’ (AR March 2012). Here is a proven way of achieving practical, humane and beautiful mass building while we wait for the radically new design approaches Buchanan proposes requiring ‘different ways of thinking, perceiving, and designing’ to anything we have now (AR August 2012). Does he agree, or has he better ideas?
Maritz Vandenberg, AR online comment