Has Prince Charles Won Chelsea Barracks Row?

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 116 months ago
Has Prince Charles Won Chelsea Barracks Row?

2705_barracks.jpg The detente between Prince Charles and the architectural community is over before it even began: Qatari Diar, developers of the Chelsea Barracks site that the heir to the throne attempted to meddle with, has stated that it is "willing to listen" to criticisms of the plan, throwing the proejct into disarray.

The announcement comes after Kensington & Chelsea council, whose nearby boundary with the site gives them a say in the development, raised serious objections about the scheme. Matters are looking so bad that a report in the Sunday Times suggests that, as far as the developer is concerned, the project is "dead in the water" and the application will shortly be withdrawn.

The Prince's apparent coup will cause dismay among an architectural community that rejects his anti-democratic interference, while republicans will be aghast that the unelected king-to-come is able to wield such influence. Yet the uncomfortable truth is that the controversial design for the Barracks, by Rogers Stirk Harbour, is far from the firm's best work. Not that the Quinlan Terry pastiche the Prince favours is any better: Terry's effort, "sympathetic" to the nearby Chelsea Hospital, is the perfect encapsulation of what philosopher Nigel Warburton described as the 'Prince Charles fallacy', that buildings should reflect "not their actual use, [but merely] look more or less like those around them". The two designs can be compared here.

An ideal outcome would be a proposal that skirts between Quinlan's reactionary mess and Rogers' tossed-off towers. But expect much teeth-gnashing from architects and critics until it happens: much like the fallout from Charles' 1984 RIBA speech, the row has already divided camps into wildly opposing arguments, with some maintaining that modern architects aren't radical enough while others, notably Simon Jenkins, attacking the "massed ranks" of the architectural profession for their glass-and-steel carbunkles.

Much like the Prince and his cherished crown, London could be waiting a long time to see this one resolved.

Last Updated 27 May 2009