Last Monday it was alleged by the UK press that in 2005 Prince Charles had secretly lobbied against Jean Nouvel’s design for One New Change, a development by Land Securities currently being built beside the fastidiously protected St Paul’s Cathedral, and that he had also made moves to block a £200 million project at Smithfield Market. The revelations follow a long line of controversial instances of the Prince influencing planning decisions spanning 25 years, most conspicuously publicised for the Prince’s recent successful blocking of Richard Rogers’ design for the £1billion Chelsea Barracks scheme.
The Prince’s actions have seen stark opposition from high profile members of the architecture circuit including 5 Pritzker Prize winning architects and the RIBA. In an interview with WAN, RIBA President Sunand Prasad strengthened his previous objections to Prince Charles’ interference: “I would like an undertaking ideally from the Prince that he will not seek to influence individual projects and schemes, unless he has a direct interest in them of course,” he said.
The individualistic undertakings by the Prince seem a far cry from what he proposes in his latest foray. The Prince's scheme coined as 'people's planning' has already been adopted in Scotland after a meeting between the Prince and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, but the Prince has now revealed he wants to spread this throughout the UK. But while the Prince attempts to strengthen his influence by bringing the 'people' in to the debate, RIBA President Prasad advised WAN that he had already sought the opinion of legal professionals on the matter of the Prince's constitutional obligations. “One of the things that we are trying to do is actually to try to get clear this argument about just what is the constitutional position,” he said, adding, “I have a feeling that...in a constitutional monarchy, I think that one of the points is that the figure head of the state actually keeps out of these everyday affairs. The argument is made that he is the Prince and not the monarch, at least not yet, and therefore that the same rule doesn’t apply. But then I think that either both rules apply or neither applies, but I want to be more sure of that.”
In support of modern architecture Prasad advised that it often gets more of a ‘rough ride’ than traditional buildings but that this was not the matter that should be addressed: “It’s not as if we are swamped by a tide of modernism as such, but sadly by mediocrity whether it’s traditional or in modern buildings and actually we should be focussing on quality and excellence and not really talking about style or period.”
While Prasad saluted the Prince’s deviation from the terms ‘classical’ and ‘modern’ in his Royal speech at the RIBA’s 175th anniversary celebrations, where the Prince re-branded his architectural preferences under the term ‘organic architecture’, Prasad was resolute that modern architecture can be just as attuned to nature as any traditional design: “I would have thought that a good beautifully designed functional building which is also sustainable, that uses the natural wind and water and the sun to heat and cool it, seems to me to be absolutely exemplary in terms of being in balance with nature and so on and that could actually look very, very different from a traditional building.”
With suggestions coming from industry professionals that Prince Charles has been, of recent times, used as a consultee akin to that of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the RIBA itself, Prasad stopped short of laughing off the suggestion that this could be his rightful role. “It can’t be. CABE is accountable to parliament, is audited twice over and has to comply with inumerous freedom of information requests.” But perhaps the Prince's latest steps to shake up the architecture profession may prove Prasad wrong - time will tell who will win the Battle of the Royals.
Hear the FULL INTERVIEW PODCAST
Niki May Young