Dezeen reports that, in Britain, the Tory government’s minister for housing, Michael Gove, has thrown his support behind the idea of a university-level school for classical and traditional architecture and urbanism. He even wrote the foreward to a private think-tank paper backing the proposed university. If built – as seems likely – it would be the first of its kind in the kingdom in years.
The move comes at what some consider an awkward moment in British history. The former prince, now King Charles III, has for years been an outspoken advocate of traditional architecture and a sharp critic of modernist architecture. Britons wonder whether, in the wake of the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, will the king stand up for tradition?
British monarchs are not supposed to express opinions. That’s Gove’s job, and it is a blessing that he seems to be doing it. Gove’s foreward for “A School of Place” states:
We must do all we can to ensure a new generation of built environment professionals are armed with the best skills and techniques possible to enable them to go out and build beautiful, sustainable places in which people and communities can thrive.
Those lines will be properly interpreted by both modernists and traditionalists as an attack on modernist placemaking, and will surely irk modernists, who include most of the staff of Dezeen. The government paper itself is by a think tank called Policy Exchange, and written by an architect named Ike Ijeh. It further states:
The new School of Place will seek to wholeheartedly revive traditional architecture from the annals of obscurity to which contemporary architectural education has unfairly consigned it. It will further make rigorous attempts to ensure that none of the institutional or professional bias that can be said to have been waged against classicism or traditionalism is reflected in either its syllabus or curriculum.
This quote, among others, is sure to irk modernist architects and most of Dezeen’s staff, who are worker bees carrying out the institutional bias of the architectural establishment. Its initial reaction against Gove’s support for the creation of what he refers to as “beautiful places” calls to mind the brouhaha that accompanied the foundation of a government commission several years ago, the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, whose purpose was to devise a new development structure for Britain that would incentivise developers to build with an eye toward beauty. It was to bring more input from communities into the process, and was initially chaired by the noted conservative philosopher Roger Scruton. He was sacked after a scurrilous supposed “interview” of Scruton that was later repudiated by its editor, leading to the subsequent reappointment of Scruton, who led the commission to produce a government paper called “Living With Beauty.” Scruton died in 2020, but his spirit seems to have been very much behind “A School of Place.”
The paper’s author, Ijeh, seems to understand fully and is willing to confront the biased attitudes of the architectural establishment. But he calls for the school to teach architecture outside the realm of classicism and tradition – though presumably not modernism; maybe he is thinking of Art Deco or the work of such outliers as Antoni Gaudi. In any event, he states:
Such diplomacy is necessary because the unfortunate fact remains that any perceived political bias towards traditionalism would provoke an immediate and hostile reaction from many within the architectural community, as seen by the hysterical response in some architectural circles to the government’s inauguration of the Building Beautiful Building Better Commission.
He is certainly correct, and perhaps wise to suggest a degree of diplomacy in the curriculum of the proposed school. But please, let him not go overboard.
The situation of King Charles may be part of his thinking. Charles may be reluctant to again take up the gauntlet of his princely crusade for beauty as king. But the forces pressing Charles to keep mum on architecture and planning are, I suspect, purposely misinterpreting the custom of non-intervention by the monarch in politics to dissuade him from intervention in the culture, which, I believe, is another matter altogether.
It is fair to ask whether a British king must stand mute and helpless, forced to say and do nothing as his dominion falters under the sustained attack of cultural warriors for whom Britain is the enemy. How can this be so?
Most Britons would have no problem with Charles’s taking up his crusade in favor of bringing beauty back to the cities, towns and villages of Great Britain.