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The Prince is in the tower again - does this mean more carbuncles?

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It is sometimes comforting to remember that there has always been architectural criticism of a sort, most memorably perhaps in the heyday of the Prince of Wales when the heir to the throne had great suc - cess with such witticisms as: 'It looks like a municipal fire station with a sort of tower for the bell', and 'It looks like an assembly hall for secret policemen'.

These were his critical summations of the unsuccessful National Gallery Extension project of Ahrends Burton and Koralek, and Birmingham City Library. Two remarks destined to join the young fogey's bestiary alongside 'It looks like a toad' - Sir John Gielgud's description of the National The - atre - and 'A broken 1930s wireless set', the Prince's learned summation of Sir James Stirling's hapless effort at No 1 Poultry.

Of course it is easy to pour scorn on this quaint outburst of demotic savagery 20 years later, now that the mystique of architec - ture has been reinstated at the head of the table of mod - ern mysteries, but there were times back in the 1980s when the whole status of the profession seemed to be at the mercy of the Prince's men.

We have all forgotten that as recently as 1988 more than half the respondents to a newspaper poll were in favour of the creation of a Royal Architecture Office empowered to call in and review all major designs. But instead of calling for the impeachment of the Prince and taking this out - rageous proposal straight to the European Court of Human Rights, the RIBA cautiously invited HRH to dinner at Port - land Place. The result was a decade of half-modern buildings; urban 'stealth bomber' office blocks and out of town superstores like monster country cottages.

Today these buildings can be seen to have been dealt with absurdly charitably by the critics, but it took 10 years for the panic Prince Charles had caused to die down.

The resurgence of High-Tech, when it occurred, was shockingly brief. Of the Post-Modern decade it could at least be said that because its products looked like build - ings despite their jokey pediments, funny coloured stonework and so on, they could be described using the old language of trabeat - ed rectangles and columns and swags. This was not the case when High-Tech really started living up to its name and using advanced computer software to establish intersecting lines in space that could not be drawn or modelled in any other way.

This has created a situation recently epit - omised by the normally factual monthly flier View, which is put out by Architectural Photography every month. Building on a definite trend over the last few months its most recent front page seemed to me to finally transcend any popular notion of what today's architecture 'looks like' and to replace it instead with three photographs that could have been pic - tures of anything. The first could easily have been a giant mollusc on the seabed; the second a twisted drive shaft from a monster truck; and the third a 10 mile-long con - veyor belt for transporting iron ore somewhere in the Messabi mountains of Minnesota. In fact, the first is a design for an opera house in Tenerife by Santiago Calatrava; the second is part of the titanium skin of the Bard Theatre in Annandale, New York, by Frank Gehry; and the third is a challenging shot of part of the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

It is perhaps tiresome to insist that these images are unrecognisable when some at least are known by their names, but is it not likely that sooner or later their sheer abstraction must prove a provocation to the Prince himself, or at least one of the younger corgis.

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