From Quango to Duchy Original

Jenny Diski

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has had its funding withdrawn in the quango cuts through which the Coalition is saving the country from bankruptcy and shame. But does this mean that no one's going to bother about what we see? Just a week after the quango's abolition, the Foundation for the Built Environment has very kindly made an offer to take over the job and give design advice on projected plans. HRH the Prince of Wales is the president of the foundation, which employs HRH-approved architects and town planners devoted to overcoming the blight of modernism with traditional architecture, such as the much-troubled Poundbury, the Duchy Original of Disneyfied old home towns. The Foundation is not even asking for public funding for doing the job, it will review public architecture plans on a fee basis.

Last year, the prince allegedly screwed Richard Rogers's design for the redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks by writing to the Emir of Qatar, prompting a high court judge to call the intervention 'unexpected and unwelcome'. But it's clear from his new book that Charles knows in a deep and mystical way what's right for the planet and how to save it, so it's only reasonable that he should take advantage of the loss of a public body to step in and ensure things are done properly in accordance with Nature's laws.


  • 29 October 2010 at 3:05pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Are the quangos doomed - all of them, or just this one? Why doesn't the government do something really worthwhile and withdraw the funding from Bonny Prince Charley? That would put their ratings up by an estimated 50%

  • 29 October 2010 at 3:55pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    From the Guardian article:

    The Candy brothers' company, CPC group, and Rogers had planned to develop the 5.2-hectare (13-acre) site, opposite Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Hospital Chelsea near Sloane Square, London, into a £3bn mix of luxury flats and more affordable housing.

    ... but probably not THAT much more affordable. Richard Rogers is a great designer, but in this case it doesn't sound as if he designed the programme; presumably the developer included some minimal amount of "affordable" housing in order to get it approved. What was going to be so wonderful about 3 billion-pounds-worth of luxury housing being dumped on this currently open site? I think it sounds revolting. If nobody can come up with something socially acceptable, then the site should stay open. The royal family should be dropped off the edge of the earth, but until that happens I say Well done, Prince Charles, for putting a stop to it.

    • 29 October 2010 at 4:02pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      p.s. I don't live in England. Maybe it's being replaced by something equally god-awful.

    • 29 October 2010 at 4:08pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      (but with pitched, slate roofs.)

    • 30 October 2010 at 3:42am
      outofdate says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      It was dire:

      I can't find any pics of the new one, seems it's not done yet, but the architect wishes, like his father before him, 'to bridge the gap between design and commerce.' Spoken like a PR man and an approach well worth considering, AJP. He's been called a 'mediocre commercial hack' and his other designs are variously described as 'monstrous', 'understated', 'boring' and 'developer-driven':

    • 30 October 2010 at 9:37am
      outofdate says: @ outofdate
      Looking at the website, it seems he has no style of his own, he just builds people what they want. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

  • 30 October 2010 at 1:01pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Thanks for the links, outof.

    seems it’s not done yet,
    The Standard article only says M.Squire is doing a "masterplan" proposal. That's usually less about what the building will look like (it might show the suggested materials) and more about where the building's entrances are, the number of storeys, where the underground parking is entered and if there are public bits (like shops). Most important it's a proposal for the building massing in comparison to those parts of the site that remain open. You can see the latter's "an issue" in the earlier model you linked to, where they've jammed hundreds of fully-grown trees next to the buildings: that's the building trade's way of saying "We're very sensitive to the ecology and you'll never even see any buildings. Honest, guv."

    he just builds people what they want. Is that necessarily a bad thing?
    If it were a good thing, we wouldn't need zoning or building codes. In my opinion the best architects, rather than blindly following their client, reinterpret the client's wishes into ideas about buildings. All architects worth their salt have different goals than their clients' (with a developer, the goals are "a nice building" vs "a nice lot of money"); the trick is to make the goals agree, "to bridge the gap between design and commerce" in Squires' case. But if, for the sake of argument, we assume he manages that (he won't), there's another problem: they're designing something that (a) faces an important public open site and (b) tries to complement Wren's building. It sounds to me like a great site for a public building, not a site for luxury housing.

    • 1 November 2010 at 10:16am
      outofdate says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Ah, thanks. The right-thinking angle has been that it's somehow undemocratic of Charles to interfere, which you're turning on its head by saying it shouldn't be in the hands of a developer at all and at least he's averting the worst, more or less on our behalf -- or if you must by 'mystically' knowing what's right. What are we (not me, the Great British public) meant to do, vote? Democracy is in a way a question of lots of fools mystically knowing what's right; I don't see how you can eliminate that element completely and make sure that reason and taste (whose?) prevail.

      Or put it another way: people seem to agree that Charles has some odd opinions but means well, whereas the emir of Qatar means business. Instinctively I'd be for the guy who means well, but the democratic vote by and large tells us that business is always right, ensuring as it does 'growth', like some carcinogenic substance.

  • 1 November 2010 at 11:58am
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Prince Charles means well. However, I don't suppose he has any problem with building luxury housing on this site, whereas I kind of do. But, what the hell, I say use him until you can get rid of him. I'm quite sure that many of those who sneer at his views on architecture are not really the modernists they pretend to be, and they should remember that historically modernism isn't only the style of the left.

    • 1 November 2010 at 12:46pm
      outofdate says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Do you like that? It's kind of lovely, the way it goes all transparent and weightless by night (better without Satan scowling at you from the side maybe).

    • 1 November 2010 at 2:07pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Not so sure about the provenance of that image that you have linked there. The point is taken though, Musso was right up there with Charles when it comes to producing grotty architecture.

  • 1 November 2010 at 7:11pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Yes, I love it, it's one of my favourite buildings. (It's the Casa Del Fascio, by Giuseppe Terragni). The transparency, lighting, layering, weightlessness and abstraction are all from Futurism rather than Fascism (most of Mussolini's architecture was pretty bad, except for the railway stations); and the illuminated blank wall has in its time advertised Fascists, Communists and everyone in between. The original 1936 interiors were quite spectacular examples of Italian modernism.

    • 4 November 2010 at 6:12pm
      If you mean this sort of thing, then no, I'm not.

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