Architects to Prince Charles: Butt Out

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I mentioned a few weeks ago that Britain’s Prince Charles had inserted his Royal Self into the plans for a proposed apartment complex in London designed by Richard Rogers’ firm. Charles objected to Rogers’ modernist design for the apartments, which are to go up across from Christopher Wren’s late 17th century Royal Hospital. In London there’s a well-established city planning process for commenting on such things, which the Rogers apartments have been going through. But if you’re the Prince of Wales you can also jump in and write a letter to the developers behind the project, who happen to be members of the royal family of Qatar, asking them to reconsider their decision to go with the Rogers design and maybe even take a look at a conservative alternative that the Prince is promoting.

That was where things stood until this past weekend, when the architectural world struck back. In a letter to the Sunday Times of London some of the biggest names in architecture, including seven Pritzer Prize-winners — Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and Herzog & de Meuron — as well as Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate.

The gist of what they have to say is this:

If the prince wants to comment on the design of this, or any other, project, we urge him to do so through the established planning consultation process. Rather than use his privileged position to intervene in one of the most significant residential projects likely to be built in London in the next five years, he should engage in an open and transparent debate.

Another of the signers, the urban planner Richard Burdett, was talking to the Guardian this weekend and played the recession card.

“We have here a very established, very clear, open and democratic process, with all its strengths and weaknesses,” said Burdett, who headed the Venice architecture biennale on cities in 2006. “We know how it works. It has the possibility of an appeal and then the possibility of a public inquiry. The fact that suddenly a voice which is somehow unequal comes into it does create a risk of destabilisation.

“In this delicate moment of post-credit crunch economic frailty, developers could feel that their money is at risk, or made more at risk, by powers that are not very clear. We could end up in a situation where people end up saying, ‘Why invest here?'”

As it happens, the Prince is scheduled to address the Royal Institute of British Architects next month. Can’t wait.