Why London Architects Will Hate Prince Charles Even More
Prince Charles is not a man many urbanites would naturally agree with. For the past 30 years or so he has been discredited, dismissed and derided – from his ill-advised phone comments hacked by the press to various New Age whimsies and his ‘monstrous carbuncle’ comments on the Tate Gallery extension.
But in the current rush to rebuild London in the style of one of those lesser-known Canadian or Asian cities that substitute for Los Angeles in B-movies, it’s hard not to feel that he’s made a few good points in his essay for The Architectural Review, when he pointed out the architectural grace of London’s wealthy houses as well as its working class terraces and mansion blocks. He simply prefers them to high-rise towers and glass office blocks, and has urged designers to pay heed to the universal architectural principles.
Design critic Stephen Bayley was quick to dismiss the comments. Mr Bayley was behind the disastrous rebrand of British Airways, but sometimes has good points to make about poor architecture in London. Princes Charles’s ‘rules’ are pretty obvious ones;
1. Developments must respect the land.
2. Architecture is a language, with grammatical ground rules.
3. Scale is key. Buildings should relate to human proportions.
4. Harmony – the look of each building should be in tune with its neighbours.
5. Avoid jagged clusters by creating well-designed enclosures.
6. Use local building materials and regional, traditional styles.
7. Don’t over-use signs, lights and utilities.
8. Put the pedestrian first by reclaiming the streets from the car.
9. Don’t resort to high-rise tower blacks which alienate and isolate.
10. Try not to be too conventional. Flexibility is the key to achieving the above.
Points 3, 7 and 8 are particularly apt these days. Returning to Barcelona from London, I’m struck by the harmony of modern and traditional buildings, the reduction in signage and the night skyscape. London is obsessed with putting gigantic, pointless notices on poles. The latest and stupidest is a huge board explaining how not to fall over on an escalator, stuck across the entrance to said escalator so that it’s in the way of travellers.
London loves chaos, but there are spots, such as the joining of Tottenham Curt Road to Charing Cross Road, which simply defy belief in terms of ugliness. And let’s not look at the Westfield Shopping Centre, which was past its sell-by date even before it was built. The picture shows the absurd Bezier Apartments on Old Street, which manage to be bulbous, dark and crushed-looking.
The next horror to be foisted on Londoners is the Mount Pleasant development, passed by the Mayor despite universal derision for its total disregard of the landscape.
Backed by rich developers, architects will ignore the Prince as they continue to reveal more featureless stumps decked with faddish little additions, most of which can be dated to their year of popularity. I’d like to imagine that we could can find ways to reclaim these blank blocks and add character to them, but that looks increasingly less likely with a mayor so easily blinded by the dazzle of investors’ cash.