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editorial

So Mo Mowlam thinks the Royal Family should vacate Buckingham Palace and move into a modern building.

The palace, meanwhile, could be put to use as a museum - a use which would be compatible with minimal architectural alterations. A radical suggestion in many respects, but not in architectural terms.

Mowlam's vision presents us with two building types: a new, efficient 'modern' house; and a preserved, inefficient monument. These two extremes capture two of architecture's favourite preoccupations: carrying out conservation work based on historical accuracy, and dreaming up blueprints for the home of the future.

Neither sits comfortably with the profession's other favourite obsession: energy-efficiency. Next week the AJ will run the first in a two-part series on the great sustainability debate. One of the writers, Martin Pawley, will argue that there are only three construction processes which reduce energy demand: retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy efficiency; putting new efficient buildings on existing sites; and building in the gaps between buildings to reduce overall surface area. New buildings never save energy, and historically accurate conservation work is simply a means of perpetuating the inefficiencies of the past.

Clearly there is a case for preserving buildings of outstanding importance irrespective of whether they are functional or practical. But Buckingham Palace is not a great building. Nikolaus Pevsner describes it as 'lacking in coherence', and John Summerson dismisses it as 'the most notorious architectural failure of its time'.

So is it time to give the place an overhaul? With his plans to fit wind turbines to the Grade II*-listed RIBA headquarters, Marco Goldschmied has embraced the concept of juxtaposing a historic building with the necessary paraphernalia of energy-efficient servicing.

Prince Charles himself has retrofitted an existing Shoreditch warehouse into a new school of architecture.

If the Royal Family really wants to show how modern it is, it should use its influence to challenge regulations and conventions which stand in the way of those who want to make historic buildings more appropriate to modern times.

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