Few things have irritated me in the past 12 months quite so much - though not for a lack of candidates - as the gratuitous self-promotion of Terry Farrell in his redesign for Buckingham Palace.
It was therefore a disappointment to see it published in the AJ (10.1.02) with re-heat backing from Paul Hyett, obviously at the time more conscious of the R' rather than the (more relevant? ) 'I' or 'A' in the abbreviated organ of which he is president.
Both he and Farrell ignore the fact that you cannot extricate attempts to reshape royal palaces from a wider discussion on the relevance of monarchy, and their doing so rather conveniently qualifies any subsequent comment on the accuracy of the proposal description. What Farrell's 'canny mind' has singularly failed to do, when 'looking forward on behalf of our past', is to actually reflect on the dilemma of monarchy as it could, rather than does exist.
There was a particularly poignant scene in the documentary where Farrell, standing beside the wall on Constitution Hill, said that he considered himself a citizen rather than a subject. If only we could all change the constitution that easily! Of course, it would mean no more knighthoods. . .
The article describes the proposals as radical, provocative, generous, conciliatory, brilliant, rich, subtle and colourful. I would love to know which scheme is being assessed! Radical would be to stop calling it a royal palace and paint it red. Or better still, to enclose it in a Corten grid as a rusting symbol of misplaced and unelected power. Generous would be to take all the railings away completely so that we could actually use the gardens as a park. Subtle would be to remove the ostentatious family sculpture.
Instead the architecture which makes the palace 'more civic and more accountable' punches holes in one facade and encloses a square to be suggestive of St Peter's in Rome. Surely that is just substituting the imagery of one historically manipulative, insidious and increasingly irrelevant institution for another?
How does the architecture 'address issues of ritual and relationship between buildings and people' that are meaningful in a democracy? I cannot see how this proposition does either, save for the fact that it says it does in the article. Perhaps before Paul Hyett sweeps away the self-perpetuating triumvirate of state, church and monarchy (although I am not sure of the context in which it comes up in the article), maybe he should reflect on the quantity of land the church owns with the Queen still at its head, and the disproportionate number of seats the bishops hold in Parliament, which is, of course, the seat of Her Majesty's government! Not exactly what I would called waned and faded institutions.
Similarly, he may wish to remember, before he elevates the knighthood, that the highest honour in a democratic land is to serve as elected representative of your peers.
Perhaps the sweeping gestures of Farrell urbanism leave a sour taste in my mouth after seeing what he proposed for Coppergate II in York, a plan that remains largely intact in the Chapman Taylor scheme, subjected by the council to facade revisions and now opposed in the ongoing inquiry by CABE, quite rightly, for insufficient design quality.
So what has been created with the 'intelligent surgery' and the 'bold new interventions' at the palace? What is in the new quadrangle that is worth going to see? Does it act as anything other than a yard from which to view all the blacked-out private rooms? And the great square forecourt that supplants one dead space with another, only now replete with the requisite cafes for the visiting citizens of other countries - all the subjects being too busy getting on with their lives so they can continue to pay taxes for the upkeep and extension of royal palaces and great empty squares visited by said citizens from other countries - occasionally joined by the ubiquitous knighted and pontificating architect!
Sorry, I forgot, it is where all the major national events are supposed to be held. But don't they already happen at the other end of the Mall, in a Trafalgar Square to be transformed by an equally bland scheme by Lord Foster?
David Guy, London WC1 PS: Isn't it about time the AJ and Will Alsop discussed his expenses - I see in his latest musings from flight BA093 that he occupied seat 61A. This sounds suspiciously like economy class, which does not really ring true with the lifestyle portrayed in the other 'letters from. . .'
I won't even start on his appraisal of religion, naive in the extreme, from 29 November.