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Fairy-Tale Prince Peter Davey Journal of Architectural Education (1984-), Vol. 42, No. 4. (Summer, 1989), pp. 34-38.

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Fairy-Tale Prince
From time to time, JAE reprints articles which appeared in publications not widely read in the United States. The /o/lowing ; y Peter Davey appeared in Archiarticle b tectural Review in December 1988; its publication brings the battle between the Prince and the architects to the U.S. that the C i was under such ressure and that the sky ine was destroyecl'. But none of this political and economic background was mentioned by the Prince. According to him, architects in their mad arrogance decided to build the towers as monuments to their e 0s. Of course architectural arrogance p ayed its part; there was, for instance, a sort of hatred of British tradition, forms and ways of life in the profession. Many bad planning decisions were made but the fundamental thrust to redevelop (and to use some of the worst architects in En land to carry out the work) came from orces far beyond the control of the profession. The fact that there are so very few tall commercial blocks of any distinction in London is a result of the generally accepted values of society.

into whipping boys for all those aspects of contem orary society that very many of us do not lke. There are, for instance, very good reasons for deploring the fact that London is one of the three financial capitals of the world: it distorts the basic British econom and generates an increasingly divideJ society. But it will take far more than an architectural critic [no matter how influential) to change the nature of the financial basis of the City and, while that lasts, we must expect that London, if it is to remain competitive with Tokyo and New York, will increasingly begin to look more and more like those cities. Prince Charles touched a very strong strain of popular feelin that objects violently to the built results o the system. Most of us, like Prince Charles, want to have our cake and eat it: we want to work in cities, yet hate the office blocks that allow other people to do so; we want the convenience and cheapness of buying in a supermarket, et dislike the shed-like structure and the ecay of the local shops it causes; we want decent conditions to live in, yet find the estate down the road (whether public or private) which offers such conditions to others a gross destruction of the landscape.

N o one could obiect to what the Prince of Wales said in his birthday program on BBC television (now a month ago) when he ar ued for the pleasures of the countryside, or small cities and a sense of place and local culture.

N o one could disa ree with his casti ation of the horrors o the 1960s and ' 0 s like Birmingham, the motorway city of dreadful fright with its awful monolithic library and inner-city roads which, while being an excellent track for car races, cut off the center from the rest of the town.

In the '60s and early '70s the architectural and planning professions were part of a system which produced some of the most ugly buildings and alienating enviornments ever built in Britain - o r elsewhere for that matter. But they were part of the system: they were certainly the people who made the drawin s from which the environment was erecteg, but they were working within a society which, from legislation to the structure of industry, was geared to producing massive volumes of building as quickly and cheaply as possible. And for all the best reasons; to rehouse the people in decent conditions and to produce workplaces suitable for an economy rapidly restructuring from manufacturing to service industry. London was already be inning to emerge as an apex of the worl financial triangle so it was grossly misleadin of the Prince to compare the capital to aris [which is even today tiny in terms of international finance) or toVenice (which last played an important financial role in the seventeenth century). To establish and hold its role as a world financial capital, London needed (and still needs) enormous quantities of office space built very fast. N o wonder

The Prince's call for a few simple rules by which the environment can be generated is very welcome. Yet to create an environment that is responsive to the existing cityscape and landscape, to regional and local culture, the most important rules would not be about proportion or materials or appearance at all. In the city, they would be to do with mixing uses on the ground level so that a local community could coexist with one of international transactions; they would be to do with an understanding of the importance of public transort as against private, which threatens to plow our cities into sad imitations of American ones. In the countryside, they would start with an objection to factory farming and with a resupposition of Greenoriented culture wRch would use the land more effectively and ecologically. Yet such simple rules, which would undoubtedly produce a better Britain, impinge on the political and economic climate. Even if the Prince can envisage them, he does not talk about them. B refusing to even refer to these aspects o development, the Prince did himself (and architecture)a great disservice. In his position as future monarch, he is not allowed to criticize the political and financia1 realities which really generate the environment. He is limited to concerning himself with appearance and superficial styling, to making architects and planners

These paradoxes have to be faced by anyone concerned with creating contemporary environments, yet they are ones which, possibly by the logic of his osition, the Prince ignores. There is no oubt that he is a decent and kindly person, enuinely concerned to improve the lot of &s future subiects and that, like a good colonel, he wants to see his regiment well turned out, happy and fond of its traditions. So do we all.


But by deciding to concentrate on appearance alone the Prince could be starting to do something very sinister indeed. He presented us with two fundamental images of what building should be like in the future: the vernacular village and the Classical civic building. His recipe has an unnerving similarity to that produced by the Nazis who, in the 1930s, had an elaborate program invented by Speer and

Summer 1 989 JAE


Goebbels and their architectural hacks like Troost, Schultze-Naumburgand Kreis. It was precisely designed to conceal the reality of the Fascist state, to put a human seeming built mask on the brutality, corpo ratism and horror of what was really going on. tently absurd to compare Thatcher's ~ n ~ to E Nazi d Germany. Yet Britain now does have very seriously disturbin and disgusting aspects, to many of whic the Prince, as a decent man, plainly o b 'ects (though he cannot say so). Instead, ke has to argue for a cloak to conceal the truth. The political reality of his position and perhaps his narrow experience pre vent him from being able to argue for those brave architects (even if he is aware of them] who have tried to modify the system through architecture: people like Foster who madea multistorey bank, of all places, into a great and noble building in which it is a pleasure to work or cash a check; van Eyck who is making a humane prison for the criminally insane; Erskine who took on the whole horror of Newcastle's housing department to make an estate which is loved and elaborated on by its tenants; Piano and R o ers who had the courage to take a French ureaucratic program for an official arts center and turn it into the most visited building in all of Paris.

It is


These architects are at the cutting edge of culture. They reco nize the realities of the contemporary word and by using their art and imagination have actually made it a better place to be in. The otential liberating freedom and potentia of the Modernist program have only 'ust begun to be indicated by such peope.

I '

At just the moment when Hopkins (for his praiseof the lord's buildin much thanks to to HRH], Stirling, Nouvel, 8e carlo, Ando, Hollein, Siza and many other architects are beginning to make a potentially magic marriage between what Modernism offers and the great ideals of city and local culture, the Prince chooses to put the boot in. This is an extremely important moment in architecture: it is rediscovering the notion of lace, of identi of the personal and in ividual against t e corporatist. Of being able to reinterpret the past, through

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Summer 1989 JAE 42/4


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Summer 1989 JAE 42/4

the present to the future. Of being able to tame and use the forces of the contempo rary to make the world a better place to live in for all of us.

Of course, we should look after what we

have inherited: no buildin made before 1900 should be demolis ed without a reat deal of informed debate. Everything #at we build now should add to the sense of community and identity that we yearn for.

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Yet, this will not be achieved by turning architecture into scenery as the Prince and

his supporters would like. It was not haps a coincidence that, on the day w en the Prince broadcasthis program, his mother opened Quinlan Terry's new office development in Richmond. This dreadful thing does nothing for the people who work in ti: it is a dreary, dull, brutish, ruthless cornmonplace commercial su rblock dressed up in seudoGeorgian c othes so it seems supeicially gentle and nice. It is stage scene for a pla in which many wouldlke to act gut which has no existential reality. According to the Prince, architecture must now be treated differently from the other arts: we look to them


for imaginative understandingsof the truth and the human predicament. Architecture must apparently play the opposite role. The new superficial climate of architectural debate in the UK, fostered by the Prince, has generated an amazing gang rters ranging from elderly MPs to sycop antic critics in the national press, most of whom work for organizations that have created some of the worst recent buildings in London (with the honorable exemption of the Financial Times rinting works). More importantly, the Rincels speeches have generated a climate of


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hirds d all exisnng business Aoor space.

Summer 1989 JAE 42/4

Establishment opinion which now favors pictures ue mediocre slime. Venturi's Nationa Gallery is an obvious case in point. B smearing on a few Classical or vernacu or signs and symbols (depending on situation)you can now get your project through virtually any planning committee. At all costs, you must give up any kind of commitment to the social and idealistic program which fired the Modern Movement.

whipping up superficial styling into a froth to conceal the bitter liquor that lies below; reiterating his superficial recipe and castthe architects and planners into the ro e of the people who have, ~iglehandedl~, made the physical world we loved into something new, alienatin vile. From his position an p o~nt shoddy of view, ' I n d this is much the easier option. But it cannot ultimately satisfy his ideals.



The Prince's own commitment to doing what he can do improve the environment is undoubted. In a praiseworthy way, he had decided to invest his own influence and money into developing a new piece of Dorchester, one of England's finest and most dynamic country towns. It will be fascinating to see what he and his architect, Leon Krier (the great apologist of Speer's architecture) make of the twentieth-century roblem of trying to create urbanity ancfcommunity out of a housing program. Yet even if their efforts are crowned with success, there is still much cause for worry, because eve cheap-iack developer in the country wX adopt the styling, and use it to persuade local planning committees that his proposals, no matter how bad, are Prince of Wales approved. But what is right for Dorchester and Dorset will be wrong for Durham or the Docks and it will take a great deal of persuasion by the Prince to make people aware of this. That is one of the many problems associated with the Prince's position and his ower over public opinion. But it is far [om beinj the least of them. N o w that he has turne so much of his energy to tryin to make Britain a better place for the Britis to live in, he should start to face the underlying forces that make architecture and the environment what they are.

Such an approach would undoubtedly put him and the Royal Family into a more contentious and difficult position than they have been in for decades, but he would have taken a far more impressive and noble stance than at present.

Or he can choose to remain where he is,

Summer 1989 JAE


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