Charles in Charge?

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Chelsea Barracks Apartments (rendering)/Images: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Chelsea Barracks Apartments (rendering)/Images: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Britain’s Prince Charles, the sworn enemy of modern architecture, has gone on the offensive again. Earlier this week he attacked a plan for a large but mostly low-rise apartment development project. Designed by Richard Rogers’ firm, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, it would be built on a site in west London across from Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital. The site is being developed by a firm owned by the royal family of Qatar. Charles wrote to the head of the firm and to the Prime Minster of Qatar urging them to drop Rogers as architect for the project.

The Prince meanwhile is promoting an alternative scheme by Quinlan Terry, an historicizing architect who’s a favorite of his, which of course turns out to be a historical pastiche of the kind Terry is known for. (Among other things, he renovated the interiors of 10 Downing Street for Margaret Thatcher.)

I’m always strongly in favor of historical preservation, but the idea that historic buildings can only be surrounded by faux historic new construction is a huge mistake. It almost always leads to faux historic mediocrity. The real problem with the Rogers proposal for the Chelsea Barracks project, as it’s called, is that it’s never looked particularly interesting in any of the images I’ve seen of it.

Proposed Chelsea Barracks Project (aerial view)

Proposed Chelsea Barracks Project (aerial view)

The Qataris probably thought they were assuring themselves an easy ride in the approval process for their project by signing up one the Big Two of British architecture. (Norman Foster of course being the other name.) But the banality of the proposal from Rogers’ firm opened the way for the Prince to step in with a banal proposal all his own.

Proposed Chelsea Barracks project

Proposed Chelsea Barracks project

Exterior stairways are a Rogers signature, and the transparent exterior stairwell in the drawing at left is a nice touch, but if you’re going to go up against Christopher Wren, you need to do better.

You can find the Guardian’s story about the whole fracas here.