Jay Merrick: The empty vision of Prince Charles

Once again he wants to accelerate backwards into a fantasy achitecture

Related Topics

The Prince of Wales has apparently written a carbuncular begging letter to the Qatari royal family, requesting them to block Lord Richard Rogers's scheme for the redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks site in London, and replace it with one designed by a Neoclassical Duchy Originalist, Quinlan Terry. Qatari Diar and the developer Candy & Candy bought the site for nearly £1bn from the Ministry of Defence in 2006.

Terry, a skilled architectural pasticheur, says that his royal supporter is unhappy with the Rogers scheme, and had a "fervent desire" that the Chelsea Barracks site should contain new buildings that resembled the Wren-designed Royal Hospital opposite the barracks. Wren! No, no, not to worry. A piece of cake for someone of Terry's accommodating qualities.

Yet again, Prince Charles not only wants time to stop in cities but, ideally, accelerate backwards into a realm of fantasy architecture, a classical-cum-vernacular cityscape that is a fusion of The Truman Show and Groundhog Day.

We've been here before, many times, and most famously in Prince Charles's first annus tectoris horribilis when he successfully torpedoed Rogers's design for the extension of the National Gallery in the 1980s. The scheme that replaced it, by the American architect Robert Venturi, is brilliant. Unfortunately, our royal architectural magus failed to realise that the virtuosity of Venturi's design lay, quite obviously, in its extreme postmodern irony. Result? Cecil B DeMille's set designers took over a corner of Trafalgar Square.

The Chelsea Barracks site is no place for architectural set-designers equipped with pattern books from the baroque and classical eras. Lewis Carroll's epic verse, The Hunting of the Snark, was subtitled, An Agony in Seven Fits. These lines in the second Fit seem apposite:

But we've got our brave Captain to thank:

(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best –

A perfect and absolute blank!"

This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out

That the Captain they trusted so well

Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,

And that was to tingle his bell.

He was thoughtful and grave –

but the orders he gave

Were enough to bewilder a crew.

Prince Charles, thoughtful and grave, has asked the Qatari royal family to tinkle his architectural bell. He's entirely missed the point, which is the billion pounds at stake in the 12.8-acre development. Lord Rogers's original scheme, which caused Westminster Council to kneel to Outraged of Chelsea, was certainly modernist, but distinctly mannerly in scale and detail. It would have created 350 apartments.

The new scheme, driven by the developer's need to surpass its massive spend, has nearly double the amount of living units, a boutique hotel, sports centre and other "features". Compared with his first scheme, Rogers's new version has necessarily been compressed into briquettes by the profit factor.

But it is vacuous to imagine that Quinlan Terry could solve this financially feral need for high-density urban bling in the heart of Chelsea. That the Prince of Wales should think that a Brut-splashing of Wren might deodorise this unseemly mess is a Snarkishly tragicomic Eighth Fit.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Alan Titchmarsh MP?  

Alan Titchmarsh MP? His independent manifesto gets my vote

Jane Merrick

I’ll support England’s women, but it’s not like men’s football – and that’s a good thing

Matthew Norman
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue