Charles gives architects a royal pain

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Prince Charles has launched a fresh attack on British architects and planners who, he says, have laid waste to the London skyline and done violence to city centers all around the country. The heir to the throne issued his first protest against British architectural standards four years ago when he called a proposed extension to the National Gallery in London a ``monstrous carbuncle'' and called a new building planned for the capital's financial center a ``glass stump.'' Both projects were later scrapped.

Now Charles has chosen a much broader canvas. The post-1945 redevelopment of British cities had been tantamount to ``rape.'' Developers and their consultants, he told the planning and communications committee of the City of London, had displayed ``caprice'' and ``tyranny.'' Property developers had been more destructive than the German bombing raids during World War II.

``You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe,'' the prince told his audience, ``when it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.''

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His language surprised his audience, many of them leading architects. He took special exception to redevelopment about 20 years ago of the area around St. Paul's Cathedral, architect Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, which is today hemmed in by glass and concrete office blocks. A new development planned for the St. Paul's area presented a new chance to put things right, the prince said.

As a prospective monarch and leading member of the British royal family, Charles is normally expected to eschew controversy. But he appears to have taken a conscious decision to involve himself directly in controversial environmental and architectural issues.

In doing so, he has adopted a strikingly populist stance. This time he said ordinary people were ``powerless'' to prevent great architectural harm being done to London. Planners, architects, and developers had ``wrecked the London skyline and desecrated the dome of St. Paul'' with a ``jostling scrum of office buildings.'' The cathedral precinct had been spoiled by the use of ``scientifically conceived slabs'' on buildings in the area. Charles said his ideal was to see a ``roofscape'' above which St. Paul's would appear to floating like a great ship on the sea.

The criticism leveled by Charles provoked a mixture of support and dissent. Rod Hackney, president of the Royal Institute of British Architecture, said the Prince's speech would be a boost to good architecture.

[Reuters quoted Norman Foster, a leading British architect who designed the futuristic Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank headquarters in Hong Kong, as saying he agreed with the Prince's latest architectural opinions just as he agreed with his holistic approach to medicine. ``I do not think the Prince of Wales would go so far as to prescribe a cure of cancer for the body,'' said Mr. Foster, ``yet he feels qualified to prescribe a cure for the cancer of our cities. He is reported as suggesting planning authorities should prescribe the style of new development. Past advocates of such a philosophy would include the Kremlin, Hitler and Mussolini.'']

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