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The pompous RIBA boycott gives architects a bad name

Boycotting the Prince’s speech on architecture didn’t deepen the debate about our cities, says Kieran Long

How did you feel about the media furore this week over Prince Charles’ speech at the RIBA on Tuesday? The AJ office was abuzz with requests from underpaid TV and radio researchers, desperately trying to find someone with an opinion on modern architecture. I was asked on separate occasions, by three different researchers, to defend the Prince, attack him, and say he was irrelevant.

And this is exactly the problem. The Prince is the one mainstream figure with the profile to bring architecture to broad public notice, but the fact that he does it only once every 25 years means the debate never moves on.

People like me are forced into a polarised and unhelpful debate. But the fact that architecture is in the news should be an opportunity to deepen the debate about modern architecture and our cities, and show that the profession’s concerns are broad enough to include everybody.

The scions of architecture who flounced out of the debate in a grand boycott (trailed in a letter to the Guardian newspaper last week) are merely exacerbating the situation. They feel so threatened by this enthusiastic amateur that they can’t even countenance engaging with the substance of his message.

This flatulent boycott gives architects a bad name. It says that architects and their initiates want to preserve debate about our cities for themselves. Surely the strength of a discourse is measured by how easily it can trump objectors and integrate non-mainstream points of view. Architecture is so paranoid that it would rather bury its head in the sand than take the Prince on.

Beyond the boring and outmoded question of style, nothing Prince Charles is saying really challenges what most architects I know do every day – strive to make humane, inspiring and beautiful places. The devil is in the detail, both cultural and technological, and this is where architects are more qualified than the Prince can ever be.

He lives in a dreamland of theoretical solutions – he has never built anything beyond the cosseted confines of Poundbury. While some are trying to convince the Prince, and others say they are defending democracy, the rest of the profession will get on with the real stuff – making British cities into good places to live.


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