Prince Charles gets it right

As a Monarchist, I am very conscious of the need to distinguish between the institution of the Monarchy, which I support without reservation, and the incumbent, who is after all only human, and with whom it may be legitimate to disagree.  In the case of Her Majesty the Queen, her life and her reign (and her discretion) have been so exemplary that the distinction between institution and incumbent is largely academic.
However in the case of the heir apparent, Prince Charles, the dichotomy exists.  I find Charles fascinating, and exasperating, and at times rather wonderful.  On so many issues I agree with him.  On others, I profoundly disagree.  I do not believe in talking to plants, and I regard doing so as (to say the least) slightly eccentric.  On a more serious topic, I believe he is profoundly misguided on the issue of climate change.  As the world cools (as it has for the last four or five years) it is increasingly difficult to sustain the Great Carbon Myth. 
Yet I agree with him on the need to save the rain forest.  I like his taste in art, and his watercolours (I have a book of them).  I admire his commitment to the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Prayer Book Society.  Above all, I admire his taste in architecture.  Like Charles, I am more Wren than Rogers. I believe that to a large extent modern architecture has lost its way.  Some modern architects can create perfectly good and agreeable functional buildings.  Heathrow Terminal 5 is a very good building (now that the administrative hiccups seem to be overcome), while I will grudgingly admit that the European parliament in Strasbourg is æsthetically pleasing.  It may be a White Elephant, but it’s a very handsome White Elephant.
But all too often the élite clique of modern architects seem to be playing games in glass and concrete for their own amusement: the approval of their peers (and of awards panels) matters critically, while the humble opinions of the great unwashed can be safely ignored.  (Now I think of it, rather like the attitude of the EU’s bureaucrats and technocrats to the ordinary people in France, Holland and Ireland who voted against the EU Constitution).  They fail to show any respect for earlier architects, for our built heritage, or for the views of ordinary people.
So I have been following the great debate over the developments at Chelsea Barracks with great interest.  Here we have an historic urban landscape — a real piece of English heritage, with Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital at its heart.  Lord Rogers has planned a modernist glass-and-steel development for the site which is out of keeping with the area, and an affront to the Wren building.  Prince Charles has supported the campaign to have the plan reconsidered, and has even approached the Emir of Qatar, whose money will fund the project.  The Prince has also asked his favourite architect Terry Quinlan to produce a more appropriate design.  If you hate traditional architecture, Quinlan’s design is mere pastiche.  If you love it, then the design shows respect for Wren and for our built environment, and will enhance rather than detract from its surroundings.  It is, in fact, rather impressive.
Now the coterie of self-important, self-referential architects, the good and the great, have lashed out at the Prince, accusing him of misusing his privileged position, and (bizarrely) of “skewing the democratic process” by “bypassing the planning system”.  My impression is that the planning process is all too often on the side of the architectural establishment, and that many people feel it is anything but democratic.  The Monarchy, at its best, reflects the views of the people rather better than the government of the day (as indeed does the House of Lords).  Far from “skewing the democratic process”, the Prince is helping to make good a gap in the democratic process, and to speak up for the views of the man in the street.  Give us buildings which the people can appreciate and love, not buildings that win awards for a spoiled and privileged minority of “star” architects.  Well done Charles.  Keep up the good work.

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