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Astragal goes royal

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Astragal

How times change for Charles, Prince of Wales and heir apparent. Exactly 10 years ago a National Opinion Poll recorded that 56 per cent of the population thought he should say more on controversial issues.

Now, it seems, he has been advised by the array of lawyers and spin-doctors that surround him to keep his controversial ideas to himself, and jettison any activities which might be deemed to be 'rocking the boat'. In Tony Blair's Cool Britannia, his rebranding as the 'People's Prince' is coming on apace. The Prince of Alternative Architectural Views is dead. Long live the Prince of Mainstream!

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It all began 18 months ago with the appointment of the archaeologist Richard Hodges as the new director of his institute. Shortly afterwards a bright young ex-ibm marketing executive, Mark Bolland, aged 31, joined the Prince's staff at St James's Palace as deputy private secretary. Together they managed to oust the 'old guard' ruling council, including Lord Morris of Castle Morris, the Labour peer, and all its architects - such as the community-minded John Thompson and former Institute director Dr Brian Hanson. The graduate course was abandoned, following criticism from the riba's visiting board (and despite a personal assurance from the Prince to his students); various initiatives by the projects office, run by Hanson, were shelved and it was closed down; and this week the new Council, run by the redoubtable Lady Browne-Wilkinson (a trustee of the Press Complaints Commission where Bolland was director immediately prior to his current position) bit the bullet over the future of the spectacularly loss-making (£1.8 million in less than four years) Perspectives. We must always remember that Lady B-W is Camilla Parker Bowles' divorce lawyer.

* * * *

Will Perspectives' debts mark the end of Colin Amery's £20,000 a year retainer from the institute? As chairman of the magazine's board (the holding company was originally called Perfect Harmony Ltd, which very nearly became the title of the publication!!!) he will now have more time to devote to his occasional architecture column in the ft. Certainly the institute cannot afford any more expensive overheads, having got through £13 million in six years, largely donated by the Saudi royal family, the Sultan of Brunei and other well-wishers closer to home. There's only enough cash left to see it through to the end of next year, it is said.

* * * *

The appointment of Adrian Gale as the new head of school - Geoffrey Broadbent was the runner-up - has put a further cat among the institute pigeons, and even Hodges' position looks somewhat precarious. Appearing on Radio 4's Kaleidoscope last week, and clearly suffering a certain amount of stress, he laid into the interviewer accusing institute critics of being Armani-clad, metropolitan trendies - to which came the bemused reply: 'Actually, I'm wearing Levis'!

Hodges was in fact on the verge of resigning his position four months ago over what he took to be interference in his stewardship by the 'new guard', and found himself something of a spare part when Lady B-W chaired a brain-storming session on the future of the Institute at the Bartlett.

But Professor Gale will, I'm sure, fit in very well. His family background is highly establishment - his father was a chairman of Lloyd's, and his wife is a lawyer (yes, another one; in fact she's a judge!) and the couple are bosom-buddy pals with Richard and Ruthie Rodgers, whose recent well- publicised interest in 'sustainability' (actually a long-term interest) mirrors closely Gale's - and the Prince's - own agenda.

* * * *

One idea the new head is said to be developing is to move out of the Nash buildings in Regent's Park to a down-at-heel warehouse, letting the spare capacity out to up-and-coming young practices, then inviting the architects in to act as tutors in lieu of a proper rent! Students would work for the practices when they weren't doing their lessons. The tone of the school would be heavily slanted towards the making of buildings and their elements, stemming from Gale's ideas on the 'craft' aspects of architecture. Mies, his old employer, was, after all, from a family of stonemasons.

There remains speculation, however, that the real end-game is to allow the new Prince of Wales' Foundation - in the care of Christopher Howes, chief executive of the Crown Estate and a safe pair of hands - to take over the institute, abandon the courses and become simply a grant-giving charity.

* * * *

Who leaked the pro-Lady B-W and anti-Giles Worsley and Perspectives diary items to the London Evening Standard a few months ago? Who previously leaked anti-Colin Amery comments to the same paper? Who sparked the Perspective's closure report by publisher Philip Harris, by another leak - again to the Standard? Is it mere coincidence that it serves as the dumping ground of all manner of Palace tittle-tattle - and a glowing biography of Mark Bolland?

* * * *

The last word must go to Richard Hodges, who usually gives the impression of being the only sane man in the asylum. As he asked one of his colleagues last week: 'Do you think it's all over?'

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