Charles to the battlements

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Robert Venturi’s addition (left) to National Gallery of Art, in London. (venturiscottbrown.org)

With the new mayor of London applauding vigorously in the wings, Prince Charles mounted his steed again, taking on the modernists and challenging architects and developers to make new London neighborhoods with the joy and panache that made the old neighborhoods most of them live in.

Well, perhaps that is an exaggeration. Charles did push developers to offer citizens streets and buildings with “an identity that fosters pride and a sense of belonging.” And we all know what that means, and what it excludes. To even bring it up takes a certain degree of courages in Britain no less than in America. So, I guess you just gotta be royalty, or Simon Jenkins.

Jenkins, the only British critic supportive of traditional city-making, reports  on the Prince of Wales’s speech accepting an award, Londoner of the Decade, bestowed by the Evening Standard. “After Prince Charles’s speech, will Sadiq Khan now take on the developers?” praises Charles’s influential “monstrous carbuncle” speech in 1984. Jenkins then says last week’s speech ought to be as influential. Jenkins reports that Charles

reflected on how often his views, on everything from food to penology, had been dismissed as “bonkers” yet turned out to be right. He again turned his gaze on London’s appearance and asked why the authorities refused to listen to what kind of city Londoners wanted, rather than let developers and architects impose their own version of profitable greed.

Jenkins concludes:

True power lies where it should lie, in the mayor who is elected to decide on London’s overall appearance. The [last] two London Mayors, Johnson and Ken Livingstone,  created a London skyline that is a visual car crash. Their decisions have, mostly, been environmental disasters. Standing next to the prince last week was a certain Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor. He was applauding enthusiastically. We wait to see if he meant it.

The brief speech was itself mostly pretty forgettable. But a few sharp lines with the mayor standing by are nothing to sniff at. A transcript of the poor video with Jenkins’s report is here.

Hats off to Hank Dittmar for distributing Jenkins’s essay.

 

 

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, 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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