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Chelsea Barracks: the legacy

The RIBA must get off its high horse and engage in this debate, says Kieran Long

So, Richard Rogers has been fired from the Chelsea Barracks job; the prince has had his own way; and all is much as we should have known it would turn out. But, really, can we please now move on and engage with the important lessons that come out of this rather seedy process?

First of all, the RIBA must get off its high horse and engage with the new design process for Chelsea Barracks. It has been a part of the debate, and the door is open for it to engage with the Qatari client, with the prince and with the other consultants who have been approached to look again at the barracks site.

We are where we are. And this is a prime opportunity for the RIBA to get involved, advocating open and independently judged design competitions for buildings on the site, enabling a design process that can end up with diversity and excellence, and facilitating a genuine debate about the future architectural identity of Chelsea.

The eyes of London, and of the country’s planners, are on the site now; and the RIBA should be in at the ground floor, showing just how open, democratic and focused on great architecture it is.

No unelected toff must be able to derail the design process

RIBA president Sunand Prasad may very well feel bad for Richard Rogers, but the institute has a broader responsibility. There is a chance that this process will become a touchstone in the future. The middle of a recession is not the time for a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude.

If we are not careful, the legacy will be that arrogant modern architects are seen to not be interested in ‘open’ processes, while the Prince of Wales Institute is.

Rogers has, at the very best, been the victim of some sharp practice on the part of the prince and his institute. But Prasad needs to stop backing the horse that has lost and engage with the messy reality of unscrupulous (but ambitious) clients.

In fact, what the past two months of fencing with the prince has proved, is that an entirely new way of thinking about architecture in the city needs to take shape – one that gets local people to engage with contemporary architecture and to come along on that journey.

That way, no unelected toff will be able to derail the design process.
kieran.long@emap.com

Readers' comments (1)

  • What in fact the hundreds of local campaigners against this scheme have gained (do keep up! It's not just HRH) is a rethink, so it's all been worthwhile, has it not? The 'democratic' planning process let them down. All is fair...

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