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by royal appointment

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Prince's Foundation chief executive David Lunts enjoys the Bauhaus qualities of the foundation while wholeheartedly supporting Prince Charles' often-contentious emphasis on traditional values by robert booth. photograph by guy jordan

It is hard to imagine the Prince of Wales falling in with Bauhaus thinking on architecture. But with the establishment of the Prince's Foundation in Shoreditch, is he doing just that? David Lunts, the foundation's chief executive and the Prince's latest adviser on architecture, is only half joking when he says he is.

The architecture school and information centre boasts a basement full of royally- equipped craft workshops. There are rooms lined with power tools, welding bays, woodworking benches and darkrooms which all testify to the foundation's hands-on, craft-based approach to architecture. Upstairs there is a life drawing class, on another floor Islamic-style stained glass and mosaics are being manufactured, and there is a defiant absence of lecture theatres.

'As I tell the Prince of Wales, ' Lunts says. 'It's a Bauhaus for the early twenty-first century. But he doesn't always understand. '

After the past two decades, which the Prince has spent labelling modern architecture anything from 'carbuncle' to 'genetically modified', many architects would be forgiven for not understanding the simile either. After all, the Bauhaus was forward-looking, embracing new technology, while Prince Charles is a supporter of traditional values in building and using nature as inspiration.

But Lunts' view is that the organisation he runs is developing into something quite radical. And, far from propping up the established orders of building design, it is actually challenging 'unacceptable' ideas which have solidified in architecture schools in the second half of the twentieth century.

'What we are doing is much more radical than the Bartlett, ' he says. 'Take the end-of- year shows. The main difference is that it is almost impossible to understand anything at the Bartlett. If anything, modern twenty-first century architecture should be about becoming more accessible and capable of a relationship with the populace. '

The foundation abandoned its undergraduate degree programme when it metamorphosed from the Prince of Wales' Institute two years ago. Now it runs one-year pre-university foundation courses in architecture, costing just £1,000, a visual Islamic and traditional arts programme, and urban regeneration 'enabling'programmes such as the Urban Villages Forum and the Phoenix Trust.

Lunts, 43, came to work for the Prince in 1995 to lead the Urban Villages Forum, following a career as councillor in the Hulme ward of Manchester, and then as chairman of the city's housing committee. In 1997, John Prescott picked him to be part of the Urban Taskforce after Lunts impressed him with his regeneration work in Hulme.

Lunts says he is political by nature and has always wanted to challenge the status quo. It may seem strange, then, that he should come to work for the future monarch.

He admits that the two men have 'quite spirited discussions, even arguments' over the built environment, but says he largely agrees with the Prince. 'There is a slightly weird confrontational culture between the Prince of Wales and anyone involved in urban design and architecture, ' Lunts says.

'The hostility is still present but ideas of designing on a human scale have been adopted widely and Nick Raynsford and John Prescott are almost embarrassing in their fulsome praise of Poundbury [the greenfield new town experiment built on Duchy of Cornwall land in Dorset]. '

'What the foundation and the Prince are really interested in is the notion of regarding traditions as having huge application in contemporary life and contemporary problems. The pressure of globalisation is that traditional cultures are badly undermined. Taking tradition as something which has real application in contemporary life is a way of saying it's difficult to understand today without having bearings in terms of the past. '

The importance of not obliterating the past in thinking about the built environment came home to Lunts when he was working on the redevelopment of Hulme. 'When we talked to people in Hulme who had lived through the shattering dislocation of the slum clearance project of the 1960s, they said they were very nostalgic for a shopping street and a neighbour next door. That stuff is all about tradition and that is entirely consistent with what the Prince is all about. '

But if modern architecture failed in the 1960s, then Lunts is honest in admitting that some of the buildings which have recently replaced the '60s blocks in Hulme are far from quality architecture either.

'It's largely true that if there is a building going up, that's considered an achievement, 'he says. 'Whether it is any good is a secondary thought. 'And as a non-architect he is happy to attack architects: 'Architecture is one of those disciplines which tends to be quite self-regarding. Its product is often geared to an individual client and an individual site. '

Asked who his favourite architects are, no names trip off the tongue. What about masterplanners? After some thought Piers Gough's Crown Street project in Glasgow's Gorbals comes to mind and mainly because the architecture is so subdued.

Life within the four walls of the foundation is a happier topic for him and he is pleased that the courses it runs are more ethnically and socially diverse than the established schools he slates.

'There's a guy downstairs from Brixton. He's absolutely passionate about the course and still drives his mini-cab at night. 'He says the course changes students' perception of their abilities. 'It's like the scales drop from people's eyes, 'he enthuses.

He'd like to take a sabbatical to enrol himself.

But that might be down to the Prince, who won't be ready to lose Lunts just yet. Lunts is planning week-long 'refresher' courses for mid-career architects, conferences and an increased profile for the foundation as it enters its second year.

Lunts is trying to be radical about architecture from the most unlikely of places. But quietly - and the profession may balk at this - he thinks he is having some success.

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