King Charles III’s influence on English architecture

Under the previous title of Prince of Wales, Britain’s new monarch made a significant impact on the built environment by campaigning, torpedoing modernist projects and even building their own traditional towns. Here are six ways King Charles III influenced British architecture.

King Charles III had a keen interest in architecture and was not afraid to express his views before he became king.

As a vocal critic of Modernist architecture, he foiled the plans of architectural heavyweights like Richard Rogers and Ludvig Mies van der Rohe and prevented modernist additions from being made at the National Gallery and Royal Opera House.

He equally expressed his support for traditional architecture with articles, speeches, a TV documentary, and even a book all dedicated to supporting his cause.

Here are six ways King Charles III influenced British architecture:

Courtesy of the National Gallery

Charles taught everyone the word “carbuncle”

Perhaps Charles’ most famous architectural intervention was his 1984 speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects to celebrate the institution’s 150th anniversary.

In what is now commonly referred to as the “carbuncle talk”, Charles targeted modernist architecture in general and a few projects in particular. One of the main targets was the proposed hi-tech extension to the National Gallery designed by Ahrends Burton & Koralek (ABK).

Charles described the winning design as “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend” and was soon dropped. Another competition was held by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (pictured), in which a postmodern construction won.

The word carbuncle was introduced to British architectural journalism and later given its name to an annual competition to find Britain’s worst building launched in 2006 by Building Design – Carbuncle Cup magazine.

Mies van der Rohe London skyscraper sacked by King Charles III
Courtesy of REAL

Deprived London of a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper

Another victim of Charles’ notorious speech and a long-running campaign was a proposed Mies van der Rohe-designed tower for a site at Mansion House.

“It would be a tragedy if the character and skyline of our capital were further ruined and St Paul’s would be overshadowed by another giant glass slab more suited to downtown Chicago than the City of London,” Charles said of the proposal.

Had it been built, the 19-story tower would have been the first and only UK building designed by one of the 20th century’s most influential architects. The state of the building was the subject of an exhibition at the RIBA in 2017 and a 160-page hardcover book published by REAL (pictured).

1 Winged
photo by Steve Cadman

He gifted London two of his finest postmodern buildings.

An unintended consequence of disrupting these two high-profile modernist plans was the creation of two of London’s best-known postmodern buildings.

After the Mies van der Rohe plan was rejected in 1985, the site’s developer turned to James Stirling, who designed the pink and yellow No 1 Poultry office block. The postmodern, ship-like structure, Stirling’s last completed building, has divided opinions since it was built, but gained listing status in 2016.

At the National Gallery, ABK’s loss was Venturi and Scott Brown’s gain, as they won the remastered competition with a pilaster-clad postmodern building design. Although listed as Grade I in 2018, changes are now being proposed for the Sainsbury Wing, described as “vandalism”.

Chelsea Barracks criticized by King Charles III
Courtesy of RSHP

Charles defeated Richard Rogers three times

Mies van der Rohe and ABK weren’t the only high-profile architects to ditch their projects, largely because of Charles’ disapproval.

One of the architects who suffered the most was Pritzer Architecture Award-winning architect Rogers, who passed away last year. It seems that three times the architect’s plans were disrupted by the then prince. First, Charles spoke out against the Paternoster Square plan next to St Paul’s Cathedral, which was later abandoned.

“You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe,” Charles said in a speech referring to the plan. “When he demolished our buildings, he didn’t replace them with something more offensive than rubble.”

Later, the Royal Opera House was abandoned, and Rogers said: “I was basically told ‘the prince doesn’t like you’.”

And finally, Charles wrote a letter to the Qatari contractors of a housing plan at Chelsea Barracks (pictured) in central London, distancing them from the architect, which contributed to the abandonment of the plan.

The trio of flashbacks led Rogers to tell the Guardian: “Charles knows very little about architecture. He sees this debate as a battle of styles against the flow of history, because architecture evolves and moves, reflects society.”

King Charles III's town of Poundbury
Leon Krier’s photo

He created his own traditional towns.

In addition to disrupting contemporary designs, Charles put his money where his mouth was and supported the development of several traditional towns, of which Poundbury was most notable.

Planned by Leon Krier with a central square designed by Quinlan Terry, Poundbury is an extension of the 6,000-person town of Dorchester, built on the territory of the Duchy of Cornwall that Charles controlled.

The classic aesthetic has been described as a Disney-esque model village; however, the development proved popular with residents and began to win over its critics. In a 2016 post on the town, Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright wrote that he “does a lot of things right”.

Following the principles laid out at Poundbury, an annex called Nansledan is now being developed in the Cornish town of Newquay. Charles also recently announced a new “landscape oriented” town in Faversham, Kent.

A vision of England book by King Charles III
Tom Ravenscroft’s photo

Mixed up style wars

The key that ties together all of Charles’ architectural interventions remained his desire to promote traditional architecture over modern designs, and he did so in a variety of ways.

Alongside his speeches, he translated his ideals into a BBC documentary called HRH Prince of Wales: A Vision Of Britain, which was later published as a book (pictured). Charles also published his 10 principles for architecture in Architecture Review in 2014.

His vocal interventions contributed to a sense of hostility that has been described as a stylistic battle between classical and modern architects. Charles avoided this in a 2009 speech at the RIBA to mark the institution’s 175th anniversary.

“There’s something I’ve been dying to say when I last addressed your institute in 1984, and I’m sorry if I somehow gave the slightest impression that I wanted to start a kind of ‘style war’, between classicists and modernists; or, in some way, the world to the 18th century. I wanted to take it back,” he said. “All I wanted was to include traditional approaches to architecture and urbanism.”

Main photo is by Alastair Rae.

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