The Prince’s Foundation & INTBAU: Traditional Solutions to New Urban Problems

[excerpt from Matthew Hardy, The Prince’s Foundation & INTBAU: Traditional Solutions to New Urban Problems, Baukultur, Stadtkultur, Lebenskultur, v.8, n.2, 2004]

2. The Prince of Wales’s architectural interests

In 1984 the Prince of Wales, the heir to the British throne, was invited to address the 150th anniversary dinner of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The reasons for the invitation aren’t clear, but it’s possible that RIBA thought of the work of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, who in the early years of her reign had done much to advance the cause of architecture and planning. Perhaps the Prince of Wales had already expressed some interest in architecture.

But whatever was expected, what the RIBA heard on the evening of 30 May 1984 was profoundly shocking. Instead of the bland encomium they might have expected to hear in the august surroundings of Hampton Court Palace, they received a dressing-down on the state of architecture in Britain. The speech, apparently written by the Prince himself and against the advice of his courtiers, started off innocuously enough as the Prince noted that:

“…at last people are beginning to see that it is possible, and important in human terms, to respect old buildings, street plans and traditional scales and at the same time not to feel guilty about a preference for facades, ornaments and soft materials. At last, after witnessing the wholesale destruction of Georgian and Victorian housing in most of our cities, people have begun to realise that it is possible to restore old buildings and, what is more, that there are architects willing to undertake such projects…”
Then followed a short account of community planning, then emerging as a practical means of dealing with complex problems, notably on the sprawling Modernist council estates that are such a feature of the British landscape:
“…What I believe is important about community architecture is that it has shown ‘ordinary’ people that their views are worth having; that architects and planners do not necessarily have the monopoly of knowing best about taste, style and planning; that they need not be made to feel guilty or ignorant if their natural preference is for the more ‘traditional’ designs – for a small garden, for courtyards, arches and porches…”
The term ‘porches’ in this section perhaps indicates some influence from the US, where construction of the village of Seaside in Florida had begun in 1981. Seaside included ‘coding’ for urban form, notably requiring houses to open to the street with neighbourly traditional ‘porches’, as Americans would term a verandah. But then the Prince reached the crux of his speech, talking of current proposals for Trafalgar Square that would have seen significant enclosing buildings demolished and replaced with a disparate variety of Modernist buildings:
“It is hard to imagine that London before the last war must have had one of the most beautiful skylines of any great city, if those who recall it are to be believed…  What, then, are we doing to our capital city now? What have we done to it since the bombing during the war? What are we shortly to do to one of its most famous areas – Trafalgar Square? Instead of designing an extension to the elegant facade of the National Gallery which complements it and continues the concept of columns and domes […] what is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” [2]
Apart from the fact that the phrase ‘monstrous carbuncle’ instantly became common parlance, the influence of the speech was both profound and long lasting. The first to feel the effect of the speech was the architectural firm Ahrens Burton and Koralek (ABK), designers of the then proposed addition to the National Gallery. Their project, which had included an underpass from Trafalgar Square and a façade including large amounts of blue painted steel tubing, was promptly dropped. Indeed, ABK found it difficult to get work for several years afterwards. But much of the initial response was positive, as architects examined their consciences. Some blamed developers, others planners. Many adopted a kind of Thatcherite mannerist classicism as a house style. Others fumed at what they argued was unwarranted interference by an untrained critic.

In 1989 came ‘A Vision of Britain’, a book and television programme produced with the assistance of a wide range of collaborators. The three part series examined a range of architectural and design issues, with the Prince arguing that designers should work to public tastes rather than seek to impose their values on society. The programme was not wholly negative, and it is often forgotten that the list of buildings for which he indicated approval included a number of humanist Modernist projects such as the Tate Gallery in St Ives, Cornwall, by Eldred Evans and David Shalev.

In the same year the Prince arranged for some of his advisors to begin a series of Summer Schools. These schools went under a variety of names. The first two were known as ‘The Prince of Wales’s Summer School in Civil Architecture’, later ones as ‘The Prince of Wales’s European Summer School’ or ‘The Prince of Wales’s American Summer School’. The last two (1998 and 1999) were not formally organised as summer schools, but rather run as an extension to the Graduate Programme. The success of these events led to a rapid and perhaps unplanned expansion of the Prince’s activities in architecture.

The Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture (PoWIA) opened at Gloucester Gate, in September 1992, in a pair of rambling, run-down Regency houses – formerly a kindergarten – fronting Regent’s Park at the edge of grimy Camden Town just outside central London. The PoWIA (or ‘Princestitute’ as it was know to students) ran a one-year Foundation Course in Architecture and the Building Arts and a three-year Graduate Programme in Architecture that eventually led to the RIBA Part 2 qualification, together with a wide public programme of lectures and exhibitions.

It was the latter – the exhibitions – which led to its eventual downfall. Student work at any level is rarely of a standard that impresses the public, but this work was expected to carry the weight of the Prince’s architectural agenda. By the early 1990s Thatcherite classicism was wearing thin in the public imagination, and Modernist architects had rounded to attack the Prince’s interests. The hapless students bore the brunt of it, quite unfairly. End of year exhibitions at the PoWIA were reviewed in a hostile press as if they were the work of seasoned practitioners. This was the period in which the Prince’s marriage was the stuff of salacious rumour and the courtiers found themselves attacked on all sides. The ‘Princestitute’ was a ready target, and by 1996 the Graduate Course was slated for closure. Regent’s Park (despite the building’s linoleum and chipboard legacy of the kindergarten years) was seen as too prestigious a location, and various warehouses in regenerating parts of London were investigated as alternatives. It was widely reported that the PoWIA had closed for ever.

But the organisation tended to arise, Hydra-like, every time it had apparently been killed off and laid to rest. The PoWIA merged with the Urban Villages Forum (UVF) – a membership organisation under the Prince’s patronage – and Regeneration Through Heritage (RTH) – a successful initiative run by Fred Taggart in Business In The Community (BITC, another patronage organisation involving commerce in regeneration) in 1998 to form The Prince’s Foundation for Architecture and the Building Arts (TPF). The school was then known for a short time as ‘School of Architecture and the Building Arts’. The Graduate Programme closed in July 1998, and the school transferred to a newly renovated warehouse in trendy Shoreditch in January 2000.  The remaining Foundation Course in Architecture and the Building Arts – highly rated even by Modernist architecture schools but very expensive to run – closed in July 2001.

TPF was a disparate group of initiatives that nevertheless found a curiously effective synergy under the banner ‘working to connect the art of building and the making of community’. Run by the ambitious David Lunts, and working with Regional Development Authorities and other bodies, the Foundation pursued regeneration projects across the length and breadth of England and Wales. Using techniques such as the Charrette (known in the UK as Enquiry By Design or EBD) drawn from American New Urbanist practice, the Foundation developed a reputation for successful public consultation and regeneration of depressed industrial areas.

At the same time, new educational initiatives sprang up to replace the abandoned Foundation Course. The Prince of Wales’s Drawing School began a series of successful drawing classes at levels from amateur to professional and an MA in Fine Art. The Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts school, started by Professor Keith Critchlow at the Royal College of Art in 1985 and which had loosely adhered to the PoWIA, now occupied half a floor, hidden behind the handsome library. A programme awarding scholarships to enable practising tradesmen and women to perfect their skills in traditional building crafts was quietly initiated. Short courses in new urbanism drew on links with the US New Urbanist movement. Despite all this, a prevailing short-termism and reactive style of management – following Government and Press agendas rather than creating them – led to considerable insecurity.

In 2003 David Lunts moved to a new position in the Government’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), the successor to the Department for the Environment. Run by bullish Yorkshireman and former unionist John Prescott, the ODPM sought to address the burgeoning growth of London and the South East by recourse to new traditional urbanism, then developing in Europe under the leadership of Léon Krier and in the US by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). Drawing in prominent transatlantic urbanist Paul Murrain, the Foundation sought to position itself as the organisation best able to deliver these policies. In fact it was quite clear that it was the only such organisation, as the Modernist architectural establishment – practitioners and schools – had repeatedly shown itself to be resolutely opposed to all such things. By 2003, the team had grown in ability and size and was ready to take on large scale projects, including large urban extensions to Harlow, Northampton, Cherry Knowle in Sunderland and Aldershot.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s