Rogers' design for Chelsea Barracks, in west London, called for a series of glass-and-steel buildings.
Image courtesy Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
The British architect Richard Rogers recently made headlines when he lambasted Prince Charles for interfering with the democratic planning process.
Specifically, Lord Rogers was displeased with the prince's involvement in scuttling one of the 75-year-old architect's major commissions, Chelsea Barracks, which called for the construction of a dozen-plus glass-and-steel buildings in west London. The prince, who opposes modern architecture, reportedly contacted the project's principal backer, the Emir of Qatar, to express his disappointment in the design. Soon after, Rogers' plan was scrapped. The Qataris announced that they would devise a new scheme with the help of The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, an architecture and planning organization overseen by Prince Charles.
Here, two prominent U.K. critics share their views on the controversy.
The Chelsea Barracks farrago in London—Prince versus Lord, Charles versus Rogers—is more about density than style. And now that the brief has changed, Rogers deserves a second chance.
I am anti-Charles because I do not believe that important decisions on what does or does not get built in London should be made on the basis of letters sent between princes, which is what happened here. Those who say it was the local protestors who defeated Rogers are deluded. Without Charles’ intervention, I do not believe that this project, which had already been heavily modified in response to local opinion, would have been withdrawn.
But being anti-Charles does not mean that I am full of praise for the Rogers design. Lord Rogers has said it is one of the best things his office has produced. I think that he, too, is deluded. He has done far better architecture than this. His office is not particularly noted for residential work, though to his credit he designs “affordable” homes as well as the upmarket stuff. At Chelsea, his way of achieving the high densities demanded resulted in a rather diagrammatic series of long slabs and stumpy towers plus—following a redesign at the start of 2009—landscaped open space. The detailing looked promising, and it’s perfectly okay, but it’s not exactly great.
So when I support Rogers, it is for other reasons. I believe, for instance, that when the site is redesigned (a plum consultancy role for the Prince’s Foundation, though unpaid) the required density will be reduced. The foundation’s director, Hank Dittmar, has already hinted at this. Over-density was the real problem in the first place. That goes back to the colossal price of the site—£1 billion before the credit crunch—which the developers obviously wanted to claw back. The protests, and reports of the protests, confused the matter of style with the matter of density.
The design that now emerges, which will be on the mansion-block principle, with several architects involved, will therefore be produced on a rather different brief than the one given to Rogers. The developers will be prepared to take a hit on unit numbers in order to avoid further controversy. It will thus not be fair to compare the Rogers project with its replacement.
There is an easy way to test this. Once the new brief is drawn up, let Rogers be invited to resubmit along with other invited architects. Let’s see how he compares. In all the talk of democracy that has surrounded this debate, that would be a fair and equitable way to move forward. But will it happen? Of course not. The Prince hates Rogers, Rogers hates the Prince. It’s as simple and as crude as that.
Prince Charles photo courtesy Wikipedia; Richard Rogers courtesy Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners