Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Architecture and Modern Development

Chelsea Barracks is a huge cleared space on the left. On the right is the beautiful classical 18th Century architecture of the Royal Hospital and the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary which has recently been completed in complementary style
I am a great admirer of architects, and count some of the best ones as friends (Adrian Gale and Wilkinson Eyre) but the profession's outrageous reaction to the re-thinking of the Qatari development in Chelsea following the objections of the majority of local residents and of course Prince Charles, has been shocking. As a member of the Civic Society, I was happy to read this excellent piece* by Griff Rhys-Jones on his blog and who helps greatly to rebalance the debate towards the sensible and reasonable:

"There is enormous pressure to build houses at present. Some very small proportion will be built by architects. The majority will be ordered up by the yard by developers and will be blank and unimaginative dormitory housing. Why there should be so much opposition to a relatively small area of genuine experiment I have no idea. The worst enemy of the architectural profession is their own sensitivity. They are mired in orthodoxy, over-defensive of their clubbish practices and unschooled in principles of either science or aesthetics. So “fake” is derided and rigorous is upheld. There is no proper absolute moral value in this. It is matter of personal taste. The notion that “truth to materials” or “honesty” is holy writ should be treated with the same searching enquiry as any other mystical pronouncement. What is important is what works, what meets human approval. There has been an era of experiment without the slightest understanding of what experiment really means. If you try a process and the result is Cumbernauld you need to try again, and blame the experiment not the result. What Prince Charles is engaged in is a true experiment. It should be seen as part of the overall move to discover what can work in any age. And it should be recognized that the pattern of building for an age is partly created out of individuality not orthodoxy. I don’t particularly like Poundbury but I like it a lot more than the vast majority of the greenfield developments that you might visit. And I recognize that my objections are based on personal taste. I find the mad mullah, heretic-burning hysteria that breaks out from architects at its mention absurd and truly dangerous to their profession."

Griff Rhys-Jones on his Civic Society Blog August 2009

*I wouldn't have included poor Shane Warne in the diatribe however.