Every year Heritage Canada gives out a Prince of Wales Prize for Municipal Heritage Leadership; While Prince Charles did not attend the ceremony in Ottawa, he sent a video. It was actually quite moving, demonstrating intelligence and passion for urban design and civic renewal. It is clear that this is no dilettante.
The prince has been a loud critic of modern architecture for years, starting in 1984 with his description of a proposed extension to the National Gallery"
“What is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend."
This statement inspired the Carbuncle Award, given to the ugliest building in the UK each year. It was followed a decade later with the very controversial:
You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.
Meanwhile, he has expressed his principles in brick and stone with Poundbury, admired by Witold Rybczynski recently in Architect Magazine, describing how its design controls traffic:
Poundbury may not have a "pedestrian zone," but in a real sense the entire town is a pedestrian zone. It's up to the drivers to adjust to the built realm, not vice versa, for Poundbury calms traffic with a vengeance. In fact, there have yet to be any accidents, Conibear told me. "The street layout is deliberately chaotic," he said. "There are blind bends, no signage, not even stop signs. We also use the '70-meter event' rule—that is, every 70 meters something happens to slow the cars down."
While almost everyone complains about the 19th century architecture, there is a lot to like about it.
The reason for "leaning on the past" is not nostalgia or lack of imagination, but rather the recognition that the established vernacular offers the best chance for creating the nuanced variety and shadings of difference that produce a coherent urban environment and a recognizable sense of place.
"It would seem to me that there is still a prejudiced misconception in certain circles that people concerned with the environment, and what happens to this Earth, are bearded, be-sandalled, shaven-headed mystics!”
The Prince has expressed strong support for environmental issues, protection of green spaces and the countryside, organic farming and controversially, alternative medicine. Recently he attacked the big supermarket chains for raking in huge profits on the backs of struggling farmers.:
He said producers were, in effect, being “penalised” for choosing their way of life, adding: “Small farmers find themselves in the iniquitous position of taking the biggest risk, often acting as the buffer from the retailer against all the economic uncertainties of producing food, but receiving the least return. “It cannot be right that a typical hill farmer earns just £12,600, with some surviving on as little as £8,000 a year, whilst the big retailers and their shareholders do so much better out of the deal, having taken none of the risk.”
“I have always wanted to roll back some of the more ludicrous frontiers of the 60s in terms of education, architecture, art, music, and literature, not to mention agriculture!”
A lot of people, most notably architect Richard Rogers, wish that he would just shut up. Rogers calls his interference in the choices of architects "an abuse of power" and "unconstitutional."
“I don’t see why politicians and others should think they have the monopoly of wisdom."
Lord Rogers may be right. But lets be generous on the man's birthday and note that he has been a powerful force for preservation of architectural heritage, green space and the environment.
See more of our coverage of Prince Charles in related links to the left.