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Prince Charles runs rings round spoiled starchitects

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The Chelsea Barracks complaint from Foster, Hadid and friends was a bit rich - and it may have backfired, says Kieran Long

The letter to the Sunday Times this week defending Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partner’s scheme at Chelsea Barracks in West London was an apparently principled stand by his colleagues (fellow superstars Piano, Hadid, Foster et al) in defence of the planning process.

Responding to Prince Charles’ attempts to get Rogers fired from the high-profile residential development, they wrote: ‘Behind-the-scenes lobbying by the prince should not be used to skew the course of an open and democratic planning process.’

Many readers who spend their lives despairing of same process will feel this to be a bit rich. One wonders how much of the day-to-day realities of planning the august signatories really have, and also why their fastidious commitment didn’t encourage them to play a bigger role in the debate around planning that has been raging for the last couple of years. Where was their input during the Killian Pretty Review? Where was their torrent of response to the Planning White Paper? Foster didn’t even vote on the planning bill.

Call me cynical, but starchitects only seem to get radicalised when it’s one of their mates with his or her head on the block. Imagine if this were a scheme by EPR Architects. Or PRP. Or indeed any other building by a regular practice without the trappings of Pritzker Prizes and Gold Medals.

The rightness of the principle is not in doubt. Clearly the prince should keep his nose out of it, and allow the process to take its course. But expecting royalty to act in a democratic way and not use its unelected power and influence to act is perhaps slightly paradoxical.

The prince is also a master of spin (remember the ‘carbuncle’ quote? Of course you do), and he has undoubtedly won this round. The internet is abuzz with comments about the ‘arrogance’ of architects and popular support for canning Rogers’ glass-and-steel scheme and replacing it with a Quinlan Terry-designed Palladian wedding cake.

What a mess. If architects at the top of this great profession took the time to engage with policy debates substantively (in the way that Rogers himself, to be fair, has energetically done), perhaps people would trust them more.

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