Leading Article: Prince of Wales seeks a fresh perspective

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THERE IS much to be said for having an heir to the throne who takes a keen interest in architecture. In the case of the Prince of Wales, it was at first a mixed blessing. He is a man of strong views. Initially he no doubt underestimated the potential impact that their expression, and his influence, might have on specific contracts and careers.

Given the power of his position, it was wrong of him in the mid- Eighties to come out strongly against particular designs, as with those for the proposed National Gallery extension in Trafalgar Square and the redevelopment of Paternoster Square, adjacent to St Paul's Cathedral. His oft-voiced dislike of most forms of Modernism and his espousal of Neo-Classicism did wider damage by encouraging the proliferation of pointless and tasteless decoration that is about as far removed as can be imagined from the timeless principles, traditions and craftsmanship that he lauds.

Since those early, pioneering, if perhaps ill-advised and under-informed, days, Prince Charles has wisely adopted a lower public profile, and moved from words to deeds. His plans to build a new village designed by Leon Krier on Duchy of Cornwall land in Dorset are taking shape; his architectural summer school has become something of a tradition; his own Institute of Architecture has been opened in Regent's Park; and today sees the launch of Perspectives, a monthly magazine backed by the institute and devoted to architectural issues.

These are serious ventures, far removed from his earlier public pandering to prejudice. Happily, modern architecture is itself moving towards a more humane approach to design. The best modern British architects have long shared Prince Charles's belief in the value of tradition, craftsmanship and responsibility towards the human and architectural context. It is those who commission them who have too often refused to pay for quality.

The prince's central point is correct: that architecture is different from other arts in that the public as well as the users have to live with the outcome. Yet to suggest that public involvement would promote great architecture is surely naive. In helping to provide a new forum in which such complex issues can be discussed, the Prince of Wales is performing a valuable service.