Prince Charles’ planned contribution to a debate at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has a caused a predictable stir this week. A number of the institute’s prominent members are planning to boycott the event in protest at the Prince’s ‘undemocratic’ meddling in the progress of British architecture.
The battlelines are well established in this dispute: on one side the vast majority of architects , schooled to varying degrees in the aesthetics of modernism, post-modernism or post-post-modernism, and on the other the heir to the throne pleading the case for ‘elegance’ and a vague, hazily imagined sense of tradition.
As our resident philosopher and podcaster Nigel Warburton points out on his blog, the same debate blighted the career of Erno Goldfinger (creator of the majestic Trellick Tower, above) in the 1950s. Ian Fleming hated Goldfinger’s work so much he immortalised him as James Bond’s arch villain.
According to Warburton, the ‘Prince Charles fallacy’ is ‘the misguided notion that the only buildings that should be allowed to be built are those that look more less like the buildings that are already in the area’ – that buildings should be designed not according to their use, but according to the appearance of nearby buildings.
Is the heir to the throne right to still be campaigning against ‘modern’ architecture? Or are architects themselves on weak ground when they appeal against ‘intervening in the democratic process of planning applications’? Shouldn’t this debate have moved a little further on in the last 25 years?
Let us know your views in the comments below- and take a listen to Nigel’s latest podcast on the virtue of thrift in politics (also downloadable on itunes and at the right of this screen).