Prince Charles is called to public debate by designer Richard Rogers

The designer says he knows of five developers who privately consulted prince over architects, fearing his opposition

Richard Rogers has challenged Prince Charles to engage in public debate over Britain’s built environment after claiming he knows of five developers who privately consulted him over their choice of architects because they fear his opposition.

The Labour peer and designer of the Pompidou Centre reopened a simmering row over the heir to the throne’s interventions in architecture by alleging in a new book that the developers consulted the palace “to check what would be acceptable”. Rogers believes Charles should keep out of the subject unless he is willing to engage in open argument.

He told the Guardian he would be willing to debate with Charles directly, but said it is more important that the prince agrees to justify his interventions in public. Over the last three and half decades Charles’ private interventions are believed to have influenced the choice of architects for a National Gallery extension, the rebuilding of Paternoster Square besides St Paul’s Cathedral and the Royal Opera House.

“We know what he thinks, but the question is what rights does he have if he won’t debate,” Rogers said. “There are certain politicians I don’t like, but they do debate. The problem is it is always behind closed doors. He never responds.”

In his new memoir, A Place for All People, Rogers writes: “I don’t believe that the Prince of Wales understands architecture. He thinks it is fixed at one point in the past (for him, classicism – an odd choice as it is not a style with deep roots in England), rather than an evolving language of technology and materials. But if he is not going to join in debate, it hardly matters whether his opinions are right or wrong. He occupies a privileged position, and he should not use that to damage the livelihoods of people he disagrees with.”

A spokesman for the prince insisted on Friday: “Developers do not seek approval from The Prince of Wales for the architects and designers that they might wish to use either directly or indirectly.”

He added: “The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, an independent charity established by The Prince, is however often approached for advice and works with local authorities to encourage sustainable development built around people.”

Rogers believes this charity is instrumental to Charles’ influence. It is widely seen as seeking to promote architecture and urbanism in line with the Prince’s vision.

“Some of the [developers] don’t see Charles,” said Rogers. “It is very carefully arranged – the fact is that he has an institution, the foundation – and some of them go and see the head of the foundation.”

Rogers has counted the cost to his own practice of the prince’s interventions more than once. In 2009 when Charles opposed Rogers’ modernist designs for hundreds of homes on the prime Chelsea Barracks site he wrote to the Prime Minister of Qatar, which owned the land complaining it was “unsuitable”. The Qatari developer sacked Rogers and replaced him with other more traditional firms following guidance from the prince’s foundation.

The Guardian has also previously revealed how Charles wrote to the developer of a £500m development besides St Paul’s Cathedral making clear that the chosen architect, French star Jean Nouvel, was not the right man as a modernist would not be appropriate for a site so close to Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece.

What was needed, the prince said, was something that should “allow St Paul’s to shine brightly”, implying that Nouvel’s plans did not. He asked if the developer, Francis Salway of Land Securities, “needed any help to think about what works best”. He even suggested that his own architecture charity could help find an alternative.

In 1984, when Charles denounced proposals for an extension to the National Gallery by architects Ahrends Burton Koralek as “a carbuncle”, their scheme was binned, the architects were replaced and their practice suffered.


Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

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