Prince Charles under fire over architecture campaign

1st October 2009, Comments 0 comments

The prince's efforts to promote classical designs over modern "carbuncles" have enraged many architects, particularly when he manages to block new projects -- interventions that some condemn as anti-democratic.

London -- Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, does not hide his hostility to modern architecture but his longstanding design crusade is now drawing accusations of abuse of power.

The prince's efforts to promote classical designs over modern "carbuncles" have enraged many architects, particularly when he manages to block new projects -- interventions that some condemn as anti-democratic.

The scale of the row was laid bare earlier this month, when the new head of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Ruth Reed, laid in to Charles' interference in planning decisions just one day into her new job.

"It is unfortunate if anybody uses their position in public life to exert undue influence on a democratic process such as planning," she told the BBC this month, right after becoming RIBA's first female president. "There appears to be evidence that he has written behind the scenes both about planning applications and also about the appointment of particular architects, which would be an abuse of his position, definitely."

Graham Smith, a spokesman for the anti-monarchy campaign group Republic, said the prince's interventions made his position as future king "untenable".

"He can't do the job -- as heir of the throne he is obliged to remain neutral and out of politics," Smith told AFP.

Criticism of Charles gathered steam this year when his objections to an ultra-modern project for a former military barracks in west London reportedly resulted in the plans being scrapped.

According to the British press, the prince wrote to the Qatar royal family, who are linked to the Gulf state's property investment arm, Qatari Diar, to ask them to review plans by renowned British architect Richard Rogers.

In June, Qatari Diar withdrew their planning application for the building.

Charles had described Rogers' project as "unsympathetic and unsuitable", proposing an alternative design that used traditional brick and stone that were used in the surrounding buildings.

"Even if he is quite forward-thinking in terms of sustainability and environment... (Charles) is a bit more aggressive and a bit more looking back" when it comes to architecture, explained Dan Stewart, architecture correspondent for Building magazine.

The bad blood between Charles and Rogers goes back 25 years to a now infamous speech by the prince in which he attacked the architect's plans for an extension to the National Gallery in London as a "monstrous carbuncle".

But the heir to the throne's anger is not confined to Rogers.

In 2005, he tried to block a project by the French architect Jean Nouvel which he believed risked ruining the area around St. Paul's cathedral in London, the Guardian reported last month.

Charles wanted something that should "allow St. Paul's to shine brightly" and suggested architect Quinlan Terry -- who specialises in building grand houses in historical modes -- take over, the project's then manager Mike Hussey told the newspaper.

However, his objections were rejected and Nouvel's project for offices and shops at One New Change is under construction.

The prince's latest intervention, according to reports, came in support of plans to add a loggia to Kensington Palace where he lived with his late wife, Princess Diana. Planners rejected it last month.

While Charles' aides refuse to comment on the disputes, Hank Dittmar, chief executive of the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, an educational charity, insisted the public shared his classical tastes.

"At its core this is an argument about architects and developers wanting to have their way, not about democracy in planning," he wrote last month in response to the media speculation. "Prince Charles speaks for most people's ideas about buildings, towns and cities, and architects can't stand that."


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