Leon Krier’s tale of post-carbuncle London

The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral takes center stage in this effort to imagine what London must have been like centuries ago.

The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral takes center stage in this effort to imagine what London must have been like centuries ago.

Here is Leon Krier’s piece, “Sustainable Architecture and the Legible City,” just published in Britain’s Architectural Review. Krier recalls the atmosphere in London architectural circles after Prince Charles’s speech denouncing an addition to the National Gallery as “a carbuncle on the face of a beloved friend.” This caught the design community by surprise. A surprise to me was that the reaction was not entirely negative, and in its wake Krier received a number of masterplanning offers, including, at last, an official, nay, a royal invitation to assess a recent competition for, and then to offer an alternative masterplan for, Paternoster Square, next to Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had been surrounded by plain modernist buildings after World War II.

What happened to Krier after the invitation is a story that, so far as I know, has not been told, at least not at this length publicly. His tale or something like it could probably be told by American traditional architects on this side of the pond, and, as in Britain, right up to this very day.

By Leon Krier

By Leon Krier

It reminds me of what happened back in 1999 when one of Prince Charles’s favorite architects, classicist Quinlan Terry, agreed, at my request, to consider designing a project at Capital Center, in Providence. He would have designed buildings for the remaining undeveloped parcels. The most recent projects at that time had been traditional in design. Providence Place was just about to open. Former Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr., who earlier in the ’90s had been Rhode Island’s economic director under Gov. Bruce Sundlun, agreed to serve as middleman between Terry and the major landowner at Capital Center, Capital Properties, of East Providence. But Capital Properties wasn’t interested.

I never learned the details of what Capital Properties told Paolino, but it must have been akin to a very miniature version of what happened to Leon Krier. Insiders must have rallied against the idea, already taking shape, of a classical solution in Capital Center. Had the tide already turned in the Capital Center Commission against the likes of Providence Place in the years after its approval? Or perhaps there were major practical objections to the idea of having a world-famous classicist design something in Providence. I cannot say. It all seemed very fishy to me at the time.

Anyhow, read the Krier piece. After telling his story he then goes on to describe why London has come a-cropper, and how traditional design could save the day, not only for London but for a world facing the disruptions of unsustainability under the modernist design and planning regime that has the world by the throat. And the essay is spiced with Krier’s profound and yet lighthearted cartoons about urbanism.

All in all, this is an extraordinarily important essay.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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