In 1984 Prince Charles rocked the architectural world by bad mouthing Modern Architecture and critising iconic modern projects at the RIBA 150th Anniversary dinner. Whether he expected it or not, his opinion was heard and projects that he critisied were abandoned. Over the years Prince Charles has used his influence to mold the shape of Architecture in London. He has also depicted his Architectural ideal in Poundbury where classical architecture lives on.
Thirty years on from this event Prince Charles has shared his ‘10 points for sustainable urban growth’ in an article for the Architectural Review. In the article he describes his views of the future as needing to be a balance between modern technology and sustainable advances and the traditional approaches and community building spaces of the past.
Prince Charles holds a view that geometry, particularly “sacred geometry” has a great significance to the creation of beauty. His esteem is so great that the subject is taught at his School of Traditional Arts. He states that ‘I have found it communicates directly to people by resonating with their true being.’
For the Prince, “Putting the human being at the centre of the design process” goes beyond seeing them as just the users, it uses geometry and the creation of community spaces as key to successful architecture. The importance of the street with the pedestrian at the heart of the design process allows for a walkable and legible urban centre where mixed income housing, shops and business premises can flourish. He calls for designers to seek to create a settlement with a local identity and a strong sense of place; one that engenders integrated communities where people can enjoy a sense of shared pride in where they live.
Below Prince Charles describes his ideas for the 10 principles to create a masterplan that can achieve his ideals:
- Developments must respect the Land. They should not be intrusive; they should be designed to fit within the landscape they occupy.
- Architecture is a language. We have to abide by the grammatical ground rules, otherwise dissonance and confusion abound. This is why a building code can be so valuable.
- Scale is also key. Not only should buildings relate to human proportions, they should correspond to the scale of the other buildings and elements around them. Too many of our towns have been spoiled by casually placed, oversized buildings of little distinction that carry no civic meaning.
- Harmony − the playing together of all parts. The look of each building should be in tune with its neighbours, which does not mean creating uniformity. Richness comes from diversity, as Nature demonstrates, but there must be coherence, which is often achieved by attention to details like the style of door cases, balconies, cornices and railings.
- The creation of well-designed enclosures. Rather than clusters of separate houses set at jagged angles, spaces that are bounded and enclosed by buildings are not only more visually satisfying, they encourage walking and feel safer.
- Materials also matter. In the UK, as elsewhere, we have become dependent upon bland, standardized building materials. There is much too much concrete, plastic cladding, aluminium, glass and steel employed, which lends a place no distinctive character. For buildings to look as if they belong, we need to draw on local building materials and regional traditional styles.
- Signs, lights and utilities. They can be easily overused. We should also bury as many wires as possible and limit signage. A lesson learned from Poundbury is that it is possible to rid the street of nearly all road signs by using ‘events’ like a bend, square or tree every 60-80 metres, which cause drivers to slow down naturally.
- The pedestrian must be at the centre of the design process. Streets must be reclaimed from the car.
- Space is at a premium, but we do not have to resort to high-rise tower blocks which alienate and isolate. I believe there are far more communal benefits from terraces and the mansion block. You only have to consider the charm and beauty of a place like Kensington and Chelsea in London to see what I mean. It is often forgotten that this borough is the most densely populated one in London.
- Rigid, conventional planning and rules of road engineering render all the above instantly null and void, but I have found it is possible to build flexibility into schemes and I am pleased to say that many of the innovations we have tried out in the past 20 years are now reflected in national engineering guidance, such as The Manual For Streets.
The Prince stated in the article that designing according to nature’s order fulfils humanity on the “physical, communal, cultural and spiritual levels”. Isn’t that fulfillment what every designer should aim to achieve?
I think there is a balance here. There is a reason the architectural design and technology have progressed. Modern advances are something to be embraced and harnessed. However, Prince Charles has a point that community can be lost within this advancement, particularly within Urban areas, where high rise open plan buildings have replaced courtyards and building which encourage interaction. Perhaps the real point that the Prince was trying to make was, don’t throw out the lessons learned from the past whilst advancing modern design. Instead use them to help create a design with has form, function, context and integrity.
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