Sunday, June 14, 2009

we are not amused

I’m not someone who constantly knocks Prince Charles.
I actually think he’s a bit of a visionary when it comes to things like the Prince’s Trust and his work and words on organic food and climate change, BUT (and you just knew there was going to be a “but” didn’t you!) his latest intervention in the field of architecture has been utterly outrageous.
As you have probably read, the Qatari royal family has scrapped its plans for the £1b redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks in west London following a private letter from the prince to the Qatari royal household.
Just a week before it was due to be considered by Westminster City Council, the site owners (an investment arm of the Gulf emirate) have withdrawn the planning application. Lord Rogers’ scheme for “548 apartments – half of them affordable, spread over 14 glass and steel buildings” is to be scrapped. Richard Rogers has been one the finest British architects for the best part of 40 years. He is noted for his modernist and functionalist designs. No doubt, Lord Rogers’ architectural practice won the commission in the face of stiff opposition. No doubt, the clients selected the firm on the basis of its past record and the quality of its work. No doubt the practice has been working painstakingly with the developers to help them to come up a design that met their requirements in terms of design, brief, cost and suitability. No doubt the practice has been working in close conjunction with the Westminster Council planners and residents (indeed, the scheme had won support from council officers and the government’s design watchdog). An awful lot of time, effort, expertise (and money!) has been expended on this scheme in the two years and a half years since the site was sold. If you appoint Lord Rogers’ practice, you clearly are NOT wanting to pursue a “more classical, traditional scheme”.
Yesterday’s article in The Guardian indicated that “diplomatic relations between Qatar and Britain were a key factor. An aide to the Qatari royal family said the emirate’s acquisition of the barracks site was as much about developing its diplomatic capital in the UK as it was about producing a profit, and senior Qataris had become concerned that opposition to the plans by ‘well-heeled and highly articulate’ individuals was damaging its attempts at ‘soft diplomacy’.”
Architect Peter Ahrends (designer of a modernist extension to the National Gallery that was scrapped in 1975 after the prince had called it a “monstrous carbuncle”) described the current decision thus: “We have been taken back several centuries to a more autocratic, medieval way of wielding influence”. Former Secretary of State for the Environment, Nick Raynsford said that Prince Charles’ behaviour was “almost feudal”. The president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Sunand Prasand, was equally appalled: "We are really throwing in the towel if we think in the 21st Century that we can't make beautiful buildings that can face a site of magnificent buildings across the road. They can be beautiful without being neo-classical." Lord Rogers described the cleints’ decision as “disastrous”.
Anyway, we MUSTN’T be concerned, because the developers have already appointed new designers to take matters forward…. they’ve appointed the “Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment”.

1 comment:

just Gai said...

My, you must feel a lot better now you've got that off your chest!