In his Dictionary of Political Thought, first published in 1983, the noted conservative Roger Scruton made the surprising assertion that 'in architecture the battle between Modernism and Post-Modernism encapsulates some of the deepest political conflicts of our time'. Whether he is still of that opinion I do not know, but many consultees of the dictionary over the years must have considered that he overstated his case. How could a frivolous thing like a clash of styles be described as the 'deepest political conflict'?
Clearly it couldn't, at least not then. But that was before the unstoppable Sir Terry Farrell returned from his triumphs in east Asia with a plan to evict the grace-and-favour occupants of the Royal Palaces of Westminster, open them to the public and return their walled gardens to what he calls 'the only worldclass public realm in the country', the Royal Parks. Surely this is a project that encapsulates something deep enough to prove that Scruton was right after all about architecture being an arena for political conflict.
You would have thought so if you had been at the launch party for Farrell's book Buckingham Palace Redesigned last week. The project it describes, though advanced with gentlemanly modesty, already displays evidence of powerful backing and a huge capacity for generating conflict. Viewed objectively, it not only has the potential to overthrow the monarchy with a dose of something much worse than another annus horribilis, but even light the fires of a second civil war if it is not handled with the care usually reserved for a hand grenade with the pin already removed.
It was two years ago this month - which is to say before the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center in New York changed the way we look at concepts like 'the public realm' - that Farrell first proposed tearing down the garden walls of Buckingham Palace in order to demonstrate that the 40 acres of the palace gardens naturally belonged to the body of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens next door. At that time, the public response to the idea was mixed. The terrorist objection was raised immediately, but it was countered by Farrell's cautious claim that 'well-placed members of the Royal Family are not against my idea'.
Even more disarming was the frankness with which he explained its rationale and benefits. 'British palaces are used by minor royals and civil servants, and are not open, as they should be, for holding conferences, receptions and EU events, 'he said.
'Kensington Palace makes a darn site more attractive place than the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Twenty years ago if you proposed that Buckingham Palace should be open to the public you would have been called mad. Now look.'
Now look indeed. With a Channel 4 documentary and the Royal Parks administration on side, as well as the book and enough suits to pack the penthouse of New Zealand House (where the book launch was held), the fate of Buckingham Palace seems all but sealed already.
Seen from the 17th floor of one of Modernism's better pieces of work, Buckingham Palace looks positively trapped in a corner; not at all Imperial or monarchical, more like the besieged enclave of some almost extinct tribe hidden by dense tree planting, waiting for Farrell to dictate terms.
Is there no alternative? Only if you start to worry about the fate of the thousands of tourists who pass daily through Green Park tube station on their way to gaze at Buckingham Palace, the enclave, from the middle of a former roundabout.
As many, apparently, as pass through Heathrow Airport in a year.