May 13, 2009

The trouble with Charles

Prince Charles's speech at the RIBA this week perfectly illustrated the difficulty of using words to describe architecture in any meaningful or specific way. On many levels, there was actually very little in his thesis that most contemporary architects would disagree with. Indeed, his statement that "Architecture defines the public realm, and it should help to define us as human beings, and to symbolize the way we look at the world; it affects our psychological well-being, and it can either enhance or detract from a sense of community" comes close to epitomising what most of our generation feel to be our primary responsibilities. Like Charles, we want to respond sensitively and intelligently to the context in which we build, and to involve communities in the process as fully as possible.

The trouble is that the same words can be used to describe very different outcomes when it comes to design. Responding sensitively to context can mean Poundbury pastiche or sculpted Gehry form-making, depending on your point of view. It is a shame that "the one mainstream figure with the profile to bring architecture to broad public notice" (AJ) doesn't get out more (or isn't allowed to) to talk to real architects about what they are trying to achieve. Has the Prince visited Accordia, for example? or talked to Fat about New Islington? (Sam Jacobs also has good comment on the Prince here.)

It is a shame that the prince is so well minded by his 'traditional' friends that he never gets into a proper conversation. The stilted exchange of formalities face-to-face and the tide of 'comment' in the media to which he cannot respond is no good substitute.


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