Prince Charles's Vision of Britain
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Prince Charles's Vision of Britain

One of the most vocal critics of modern architecture is Prince Charles, the current heir to the British throne. Prince Charles is an architectural aficionado and believes that architecture has become alien to the general public. His detractors have pointed out that Prince Charles has no specialist knowledge of architecture and no accountability, but his privileged status gives him a platform from which to propound his views.

One of the most vocal critics of modern architecture is Prince Charles, the current heir to the British throne. Prince Charles is an architectural aficionado and believes that architecture has become alien to the general public. His detractors have pointed out that Prince Charles has no specialist knowledge of architecture and no accountability, but his privileged status gives him a platform from which to propound his views. He is the ultimate gentleman amateur and his tastes are very conservative. In 1988, Prince Charles fronted a TV series entitled A Vision of Britain. This is a quote from the series:

'I would suggest that most of us are probably very proud of our country and feel there is something rather special about Britain, about our landscape, about our villages and our towns, and about those aspects of our surroundings which provide us with what we rather loosely call character. This character, which is so evident in the local architectural styles of the buildings you see in each county, is part of an extraordinarily rich tradition which we've inherited from our forebears.'

This is a patriotic eulogy of Britishness are configured in the built environment and landscape. However, the Prince argues that, ‘Some time during this century something went wrong. For various complicated reasons, we allowed terrible damage to be inflicted on parts of this country's unique landscape and townscape.’

What is he referring to here? He’s talking about the onslaught of European Modernism and Brutalism. Charles continues: ‘All over Britain local councils were subsidised to build gaunt and unlovely towers which rose like great tombstones from pointless and windswept open spaces, like these in Newcastle.’

The Prince’s intervention went beyond manipulation of the media. He has created an entire town based on his architectural principles. Poundbury in Dorset is an experimental new town devised by Prince Charles. In 1987, West Dorset Council selected Duchy land for the expansion of Dorchester. The Prince of Wales worked with the council to develop the plan. He appointed the architect, Leon Krier, to prepare the overall plan. Krier is well known in Europe and America as a champion of traditional urban design.

Again, Prince Charles is a vociferous critic of modern architecture and his own tastes are extremely conservative. is designed in the traditional vernacular styles of Dorset and built with local materials. As stated on the official website, ‘The architecture at Poundbury is unashamedly traditional, using a variety of Dorset materials such as stone, slate and render.’

In the centre, Pummery Square is dominated by the traditionally-styled Brownsword Hall. The building was designed by John Simpson and based on vernacular buildings. There is also a pub called the Whistling Witch (2008). The design is reminiscent of Arts and Crafts architecture, particularly the work of CFA Voysey.

The Fire Station (2008) can be described as third-hand architecture - it’s inspired by Georgian buildings that were in turn inspired by Greek temples. The pilasters and pediments evoke Greek temples, but the intervals are filled in with brick and sash windows. It looks like a doll’s house version of a Georgian building, but on a 1:1 scale. Is this environment a bastion of English tradition or a reactionary fantasy that tries to keep the modern world at bay?

In all of these buildings, the ‘character’ feels built in. The townscape looks antiseptic and artificial. This is partly because we’re used to seeing Georgian buildings with a patina of age, the wear and tear that makes a place look lived in. At Poundbury, there is a distinct lack of patina. As a result it doesn’t seem real. Ultimately, the town is a pastiche of a Georgian township. The building of Poundbury suggests a reactionary urge to arrest the development of architecture and suspend it in a perpetual Georgiana.

 

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Comments (1)

I have to agree with Prince Charles, although I certainly no "specialist knowledge of architecture." I know what I like and isn't that what it's all about? Pleasing the eye? One shouldn't have to be a specialist or elite to have an opinion. :)

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