Architects angry at Prince's power grab

He has damned modern designs for London's National Gallery and Chelsea Barracks, trumpeted a traditionalist model town in Dorset and delivered verdicts on buildings to ministers and world leaders. Now Prince Charles's architectural influence could be felt across Britain.

In a move which has angered architects favouring contemporary design, the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment has mooted plans to offer professional design advice on future developments nationwide.

The move comes after the Government indicated this month that it was cutting funding for its design watchdog, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe).

"The Government previously had a design quango to be the design arbiter in Britain but we perceive a route where local authorities could seek advice from a variety of sources in a marketplace of ideas," said the Foundation's chief executive Hank Dittmar. "We'd be entering into the notion of localism, offering a voluntary service using experts whom we fund."

Dittmar insists that the Foundation operates independently of the Prince and that any design review board would seek members known to advocate a range of architectural styles. However the Foundation's website says its mission is to "heed the lessons of traditional place-making in new architecture and planning".

The plans have been greeted with incredulity by some of the country's most prominent architects. "The Foundation is obviously concerned with the environment and we've seen it rear its head on prominent schemes at London's Paternoster Square, where plans to rebuild the London square were dropped after the Prince intervened in 1987, and elsewhere," said architect Will Alsop. "The organisation is partisan. On the other hand Cabe's advisers were not being paid, they were offering design services for free, out of a public duty."

The majority of Cabe's 125 staff have been served with redundancy notices ahead of the body's intended closure next March, although the Architecture minister, John Penrose, has said he is still in discussions with Cabe about its future.

Robert Adam, a former Cabe adviser and a favourite architect of the Prince, welcomed the Foundation's proposals. "I was on [Cabe] to provide balance but in the end it became a huge bureaucracy where the balance had been lost and ended up peddling the established architectural view," he said.

Will Hurst, news editor of the architecture trade newspaper Building Design, commented: "Architects' beleaguered profession has already been poleaxed by the recession and public-sector cuts. The idea that the Coalition's rolling back of the state will hand greater influence to their most famous and vocal critic will add insult to injury."



Construction began on traditional new town just outside Dorchester in 1993. Spread over 154-hectares, it reflects the Prince's architectural principles.

Chelsea Barracks

The Prince disliked the original design for the site by Richard Rogers and favoured the traditionalist Quinlan Terry – so wrote to the site's owner, the Qatiri royal family, to complain. The costly battle eventually led to the High Court.

Coed Darcy

The first homes in this new Welsh village, being co-developed by the Prince's Foundation, were designed by one of Charles's architectural heroes, Robert Adam. The £1.2bn project will contain 4,000 homes.


National Gallery extension

While giving a high-profile speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) in 1984, Charles famously lambasted a proposed extension to the gallery by Peter Ahrends as "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend".

Paternoster Square

In 1987 Charles poured scorn on Richard Rogers' proposed redevelopment, next to St Paul's Cathedral in London. "You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe," he said. "When it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble."

Ivor Crew lecture hall

While addressing an audience of soldiers at the venue in 2008, the Prince said that the hall "looked like a dustbin". It went on to win a prestigious Riba award later the same year.


By Jay Merrick

Having driven Britain’s architectural community apoplectic by blocking Richard Rogers’ modernist housing scheme for the Chelsea Barracks site in London, it seemed inconceivable that the Prince of Wales could devise any finer instrument of torture for architects. Yet he has done just that. Through his mouthpiece, Hank Dittmar, we learn that the Prince’s Foundation is interested in taking over from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment as our watchdog for the architectural quality of important projects.

CABE is due to be axed next March, the government preferring to leave the new architecture of our towns and cities largely in the hands of uncultured developers – there are sterling exceptions, of course. This is a milieu populated by too many ill-informed town and city planners afraid to risk hundreds of thousands of pounds, or even millions, to fight dubious major developments at appeal hearings.

Could Prince Charles’ architectural charity do any better? Well, it certainly can in terms of satire. The Foundation’s director, Hank Dittmar, says that to be credible, “it would have to have democratic, independent judgement. We would have to have a panel that was balanced and not exclusively traditional architects.” A panel as democratic as, say, Prince Charles’s billet doux to the Qatari royal family which effectively destroyed the Rogers’ scheme? Or perhaps as democratic as the occult wheeling and dealing that architects and developers pursue to get planners on-side?

It is inconceivable that the Prince’s Foundation could be made responsible for assessing the potential goodness or badness of major British architectural projects; not because its officers are culturally one-eyed, which is a very harsh and unreasonable thing to suggest. The fundamentally damning point is much simpler: the Prince and his Foundation claim they are interested in modernist architecture, but they are not. They are interested in architecture ambered in the romantic soft-focuses of history and tradition. Just as there is good and bad neo-classical architecture, so there is good and bad modern architecture. In the latter case – the vast majority of new building proposals – would the Duchy Original cohort know the difference? Perhaps not.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions