Britain embraces tradition

Buckingham Palace, official residence of King Charles III. (Architectural Digest)

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.

King Charles III, former Prince of Wales.

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.

Michael Gove, Minister of Housing

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.

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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5 Responses to Britain embraces tradition

  1. John the First says:

    Curious, curious, curious…
    Plenty of people have noticed that so called sustainable energy technology (which is all but sustainable) is accompanied with a vast proliferation of ugliness. The wind turbine parks, the solar cell parks, the solar cells on the roofs of buildings, but also the ugly ventilators attached to houses, required for heath pumps, it all consists of a vast proliferation of ugliness.
    Another thing which can be observed in the alleged human caused climate change and biodiversity loss doom scenario, is that it is not exactly a celebration of human culture, rather at large a denunciation of it, if not motivated by downright hatred of human culture. Human culture is depicted at large as the agent of destruction.
    How the hell can this be combined with a celebration of traditional architecture (human culture), and beauty?
    Instead of building beautiful parks, nature under the supervision of man, they are wining about lack of biodiversity, they advise not to mow your lawn, they are promoting wild nature, for the sake of biodiversity (the latter just being a fancy word for raw nature).

    It is all very twisted, promoting the proliferation of unnecessary technological ugliness, whining about the loss of raw nature, promoting ugly doom scenarios’, all the fault of human culture, meanwhile promoting cultivation of human culture in the form of traditional architecture..
    The latter cannot be combined with the former without it leaving a curious smell of something rotten.

    Like

    • John the First says:

      We should have a cartoonist drawing a picture of King Charles III in a picturesque village, celebrating the traditionalist charms of the village, wearing traditional clothing.
      In the next picture he exchanges his traditional clothing for the kind of slick suit popular among bureaucrats and a corporate crowd, then he flies to a Davos elite, and we see him among the uniform corporate suits in their modernist environment. Outside we see the footsoldiers of extinction rebellion, they are throwing tomato soup on the Rembrandts and the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. The drawings of machinery made by da Vinci are put into the paper shredder, as they are symbolic of industrialisation, the cause of our doom.
      In the last picture we see the picturesque village again, the traditional architecture is surrounded by vast areas with large amounts of wind turbine and solar cell parks, and there are solar cells on the roofs everywhere. The lawns are no longer mowed, the weeds are growing four feet high everywhere in the formerly beautifully cultivated parks and gardens, for the sake of biodiversity, and parts of the former agricultural areas are underwater, having become ‘biodiversity’ mud pools. And the people have become impoverished because of the enormous energy prices and the bankruptcy of industry, and they are freezing in the winter. The ornaments on the buildings are all removed, as according to the puritans they amount to a waste of resources, and waste of energy, as the production of beauty costs resources and energy, destroying the planet….
      King Charles also never appears any more in his traditional costume, it amounts to a lavish waste of resources.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Britain embraces tradition | Rashid's Blog: An Educational Portal

  3. Barbara Eberlein says:

    Bravo, David!!!

    Like

  4. John Henry says:

    Very happy to hear about this. The new monarch must have had something to do with it. The polemic continues… I think Poundsbury was an achievement, better than the New Urbanism we were fed here in the U.S.

    Like

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