Prince initiates truce at RIBA

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Prince of Wales’ speech delivers apology but pleads for community thinking in architecture

The Prince of Wales last night delivered a historic speech at the RIBA both apologising for the rift caused following his speech 25 years previous, and pleading for a wider bottom-up approach to architecture.

“Now there is something I’ve been itching to say about the last time I addressed your Institute, in 1984,” the Prince stated, “and that is that I am sorry if I somehow left the faintest impression that I wished to kick-start some kind of ‘style war’ between Classicists and Modernists; or that I somehow wanted to drag the world back to the eighteenth century.

All I asked for was room to be given to traditional approaches to architecture and urbanism, so I am most gratified to see that, since then, the R.I.B.A. itself has initiated a Group for traditional practitioners.”

In the 1984 speech the Prince described the proposed National Gallery extension as a ‘monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend’, the design was subsequently scrapped and since then much of the architecture community has remained less than enamored with the Prince’s apparent influence in the profession, created through his Foundation for the Built Environment.

Last night’s speech worked to repair this rift whilst enforcing the Prince’s opinions on Modern architecture approaches. Keen to assert that he is not adverse to all modern architecture, the Prince cited I. M. Pei’s new museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and David Chipperfield’s restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin as examples of ‘very interesting and worthy buildings’.

Significantly, the Prince attempted to remove the comparison between Modernist and Classical architecture by rephrasing the architecture he is in support of as ‘organic’ rather than Classical or Traditional describing the terminology as ‘traditional architecture that emerges from a particular environment or community – an architecture bound to place not to time’. He also chose to reclassify the divide as one between top-down and bottom-up architecture.

“Today, I’m sorry to say, there still remains a gulf between those obsessed by forms (and Classicists can be as guilty of this as Modernists, Post-Modernists, or Post-Post-Modernists), and those who believe that communities have a role to play in design and planning,” he said.

“I don’t think it is too much to say that beauty and harmony lie at the heart of genuine sustainability. I believe that precisely because the built environment defines the public, or civic, realm it should express itself through the fundamental ingredients that define a genuine civilization – in other words, those civic virtues such as courtesy, consideration and good manners.”Conceived as a lecture addressing sustainability, the Prince discussed the interplay between bottom-up architecture and nature in which he reiterated his appreciation for the ‘slum cities’ in India as a demonstration of the power of community action.

Despite calls from prominent architects Will Alsop and Chris Wilkinson to boycott the event, the RIBA was a full house. The Prince’s speech concluded with a hope for unity:

“I pray that a new and developing relationship between this Institute and my Foundation for the Built Environment can enable us to work together to create the kind of organic architecture for the twenty-first century that not only reflects the intuitive needs, aspirations and cultural identity of countless communities around the world, but also the innate patterns of Nature.”

Niki May Young
News Editor

Read the full speech HERE.

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United Kingdom

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