Monday, August 17, 2009
Naughty Prince Charles Causing Trouble For Starchitects Again (actually not)
If Prince Charles didn't exist, Starchitects and ideological architecture critics would have to invent him: focusing on him moves discussion away from the quality and character of Starchitects' designs and brings in all the complex and deep-seated British conflicts about class issues. The issue at St. Paul's, despite what Booth would like us to believe, is not the monarchy but the quality of London and the setting for the cathedral. The complaints about Charles are a smokescreen, to keep us from seeing what a bad building this is, and how much it diminishes the city -- which, of course, is exactly what Charles was saying
The "style" issue is also phony, although Starchitects and their ideologue supporters like Booth (apparently) do see the world that way. For them, there is Modernism and there is everything else, denigrated as pastiche and "historical styles" (the horror!). But the good news is that we're now in the 21st century, and we no longer have to put up with this tyranny of the 20th century. We realize that making places is more important than saying everyone should build in glass and steel (which is unsustainable, by the way).
Booth tells us that Bad Prince Charlie tried to stop a "modern 'masterpiece.'" But why is it a modern masterpiece? Because "gleaming walls of glass ... lurch at fashionably acute angles" (i.e., style)? Or because it's designed by a French Starchitect? British architecture critics obviously don't believe in the Divine Right of Kings, but they fight for the Divine Right of Starchitects to do whatever they want, regardless of how that might harm the city.
St. Paul's Cathedral is one of Britain's national treasures. Booth implies that a shopping mall and office park with fashionably acute angles is equally important. But as Frank Gehry recently said in an interesting session at the Aspen Ideas Festival (video available online), in the making of good cities and public spaces "planning becomes more important" and non-iconic buildings should "become more background." He was talking about situations like this one, in which the buildings shaping the space around St. Paul's should defer their own expression to supporting the focus on the cathedral, making it like a jewel in an important setting. Or as Charles put it, what was needed was something that would allow "St Paul's to shine brightly". A glass building with fashionably acute angles does not do that. Like most Starchitects, Nouvel thinks the attention should go to his building, no matter what the situation.
I've looked at photos of the ridiculously named shopping mall (if they called it 1 New Chance we wouldn't ask "One New Chance for what?"), which the Guardian does not show us. It's a dreadful building on its own terms, full of the architectural cliches of the year. A timeless building that more modestly shaped the street and square in front of it, as tens of thousands of good London buildings do, would be far better in this situation.
PS: The Guardian calls Brooks a news reporter, although his article is clearly a polemical piece for Modernism and against Prince Charles. At least he doesn't bring up the Camillagate tapes every time Charles says something against Starchitects, as Rupert Murdoch and Hugh Pearman do at The Times.
Here's another Guardian polemic that attempts to make the issue about Charles rather than the architecture and urbanism, with some interesting comments. Ironically, in a section called "Comment Is Free," the head of the New London Architecture Centre says Charles should stop commenting. Note that this tempest in a teapot is all about a building that went ahead despite Charles's comments, and that few realized at the time that Charles had said anything.
August 17, 2009 | Permalink
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Great comments. I find it supremely ironic that papers such as The Guardian should steadfastly wave the liberal flag and be sooo conservative in their architectural proclivities. The modernists of yore remind me of the communists in reaction to the fascists. 'Buy all my utopian fantacies in reaction to the draconian traditional styles, but don't mind the gulags.' The modernist architectural establishment won't acklowledge what the majority of the public already does because they would lose all stature in their academic fifedoms, especially ones still riddled with those preocupations such as Great Britain.
Posted by: Thayer-D at Aug 17, 2009 2:04:00 PM
It's "One New Change", New Change being the name of the street (we are just up from the Bank of England here!), and One being the address.
Posted by: Brian Hanson at Aug 17, 2009 6:33:50 PM