– with best regards to Paul Keating
By Peter Droege…
The audience in the near-full auditorium expected turmoil, demonstrations and heckling after calls from the “modernist” camp to boycott the event.
The Prince had written to Sheikh Hamad bin Jaber Jasim al-Thani, urging the Quatari Prime Minister and member of its royal family to seek withdrawal of investment support for the controversial Richard Rogers designs for a scheme at Chelsea Barracks, without success.
But except for a single, somewhat reluctant call for “end the monarchy now” at the end of the speech (prompting another audience retort of “certainly not”), and some placard-waving in support of Charles’ position on the project at the entrance of 66 Portland Street, no protest surfaced.
Prince Charles gave a fine speech at the175th anniversary this month. It came across as differentiated, elegant, poetic and funny. The 45 minute address managed to connect his placelessness critique of 1984 (remember his “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend” analogy to the addition to the planned National Gallery that marked his address on occasion of the RIBA’s 150th anniversary) to the accelerating “modern experiment” that social values and environmental conditions had become subject to, to the financial crisis and the awesome threat of climate change.
While he compared the current call for banking discipline to society’s need for architectural traditions and sustainability in the built environment his tone was decidedly conciliatory and keen to establish the common ground of the present planetary crisis as sufficient reason for a search, jointly with community groups and community based design processes, through the maze of challenges and convictions to its centre.
The centre was presented as defined by the traditions of place specific building and, above all, the laws and dynamics of nature.
Charles referred to the renaming of his foundation, from “architecture” to the “built environment”, and a new joint MSc in Sustainable Urbanism with Oxford, along with new built environment fellowship, and crafts apprenticeship programs.
He also extended the offer of a joint endeavour with the RIBA in urban and architectural sustainability, to engage professionals, academics and students in the development of his vision of organic urbanism.
Three principles were important in securing the sustainability of architecture: relation to precedent, relation to place and the integration of new technology – especially renewable energy, but handled carefully, not as add-on “bling”.
Extending the search for common ground, and reporting from various trips including Doha and Berlin, he praised I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and David Chipperfield’s restoration of Berlin’s Neues Museum as examples of modern interpretations of traditional formal language (below).
During the reception I reminded him of his Sydney visit some 15 years ago, and the then-PM’s meeting with him and his Urban Design Taskforce, where I had met him last. He issued his best regards to Paul Keating, one of our own finest force in seeking better design – influencing others of influence, from the Propery Council to Bob Carr.
It seems to me that it is high time to not only renew but most urgently step up this search to focus firmly onto this age, our battle with energy risk and climate destabilisation, the need to transcend the fossil fuel powered age.