<html><head /> <body> <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-16"><title>Defending Modern Architecture</title><meta name="keywords" content="modern,architecture,charles,cities,classicism,criticism,critics,democratic,environment,gothic,london,modernism,pompidou,prince,revolutionary,Richard,rogers,wales,"><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; " align="center" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td style="background-color:silver; border-color:white; border-left-style:none; border-style:none; " width="730"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; ">Defending Modern Architecture</span></td> </tr> <tr> </tr> </tbody></table><br><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:medium; " align="center" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td height="131" width="669"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small;"><strong>Editors Introduction</strong></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; "></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><IMG SRC="auth_Rogers.jpg" WIDTH="90" HEIGHT="120" ALT="Rogers" VSPACE="10" HSPACE="10" BORDER="0" ALIGN="right"> In this article, Richard Rogers (right), attacks the "conservative" and "historicist" comments made by the Prince of Wales about modern architecture. He argues that the Prince of Wales's school of thought has led to a spate of laughable mock-imperial architectural initiatives, reminiscent of elaborate film sets rather than dignified city centres. As the architect of landmarks such as the Millennium Dome and the Pompidou Centre, Richard Rogers also voices his concern over the hypocrisy of a royal family willing to criticise modern architecture but unwilling to patronise modern architecture.</span><br> <br><span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>The curse of progress</strong></span><!-------- BEGIN CLICKABLE IMAGE --------> <TABLE BORDER="0" CELLPADDING="4" CELLSPACING="0" WIDTH="1" ALIGN="LEFT"> <TR><TD><A HREF="index.htm" target="_blank" ONCLICK="popWindow('index.htm','FathomSlideshow','width=700,height=450,scrollbars=no')"> <IMG SRC="1710_launch.gif" WIDTH="150" HEIGHT="150" ALT="Click to View Slideshow" BORDER="0"></A> </TD></TR><TR><TD> <FONT FACE="Verdana, Sans-Serif" SIZE=1> A presentation of notable works of modern architecture. </FONT></TD></TR> </TABLE> <br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In his sweeping criticisms of modernism, the Prince of Wales has failed to recognise that architecture mirrors society--its civility and its barbarism. Its buildings can be no greater than the sense of responsibility and patronage from which they originate. In blaming the architect and the architect alone for the ugliness of our built environment, the Prince exonerates the real culprits, thereby frustrating the very debate he wishes to encourage.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">At the heart of the Prince's position is the claim that "our age is the first to have seen fit to abandon the past." This is, to say the least, an eccentric interpretation of the history of architecture, ignoring as it does the great turning points in the course of Western architecture, for example, the eclipse of Gothic forms by the Renaissance.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Indeed, if there is any continuity at all in architectural history, it lies not in some illusory aesthetic but in the fact that all departure from tradition has provoked ferocious controversy and opposition. When the first caveman left the shelter of his solid, waterproof, easily defensible cave for the lightweight, flexible, high-tech hut (where one couldn't even draw on the walls), he was no doubt stoned for being a revolutionary with no feeling for social or visual traditions.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">If the conservative principles favoured by the Prince of Wales and his followers had been applied throughout history, very little of our "traditional" architectural heritage would ever have been built. Most of the great buildings in the classical and Gothic traditions which the conservationists now value so highly were, in their own time, revolutionary. If the height of a new building had to conform to those around it, the great Gothic cathedrals would never have seen the light of day. Likewise, the massive Italian stone palazzi of the sixteenth century, which today can seem the very exemplar of "traditional architecture," dwarfed the one- and two-storey wooden medieval buildings surrounding them.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><a href="1710_Wood_LG.html" target="_browser"><IMG SRC="1710_Wood_SM.jpg" WIDTH="150" HEIGHT="139" ALT="88 Woods Street" VSPACE="0" HSPACE="5" BORDER="0" ALIGN="left"></a> When the Queen opened the new Lloyds Building, in 1986, the Dean of St. Paul's reminded me of the opposition that Wren had met with in the construction of St. Paul's. Apparently he had to build a wall 18 feet high around the site to prevent his critics from seeing and once more frustrating his plans. Several earlier designs had been blocked, including his 1673 design, of which the "Great Model" can still be seen in the crypt of the cathedral. This is a magnificent project, and had it been built it would have been not only one of the greatest of all Baroque masterpieces but also one of the most technically advanced constructions of its time. Sadly, the design was too radical, the project was rejected, and in its place Wren designed the present, less innovative cathedral.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">If buildings like great Gothic churches, the palazzi of Renaissance Italy or St. Paul's seem to us to exist in harmonious relation with their neighbours, it is not because they slavishly imitated them in size, style or material. Rather, they embodied new building techniques and distinctive architectural forms quite unlike anything ever seen before. The contextual harmony that they seem to enjoy with their surroundings is the result of the juxtaposition of buildings of great quality, clearly and courageously relating across time.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I believe that the new movements in architecture that sprung up around the turn of the last century represent an important turning point in the history of architecture comparable to that other great watershed, the development of the classical forms of the Renaissance. Like the beautiful buildings of Brunelleschi or Wren, the designs of Sullivan, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe offered a new aesthetic responsive to the scientific and ethical movement of the times.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>The classicism of modernism</strong></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Although you would not know it if you listened to the Prince of Wales, the modern movement, or at least a great part of it, represented a return to classical principles. It emphasised the integrity of building materials, and it insisted, in contrast to Victorian preoccupations with historical styles and surfaces, that architecture was primarily concerned with the relation of three-dimensional form, with the play of light and shadow, of space and mass, rather than with ornament. Together with these aesthetic principles went certain social commitments; the history of modernism had as its starting point the disastrous growth of the nineteenth-century city and the spread of slum dwellings. Early efforts in modern design were marked by a concern to develop healthier, greener and more humanitarian environments; English garden cities and new towns reflect this reformist spirit. To the early modernists, architecture was not just another moneymaking business. They sought in their architecture to give expression to democratic ideals, to create new public forums and to contribute to freer and more egalitarian ways of living. Thus, from its beginnings modern architecture has been most interested in the design of houses and public institutions like schools and town halls and not, like its predecessors, in the construction of churches and palaces.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">These classical principles and progressive social commitments were given a revolutionary embodiment in the buildings of the early modernists. For example, the discovery of relative space, manifest in cubist art, was given architectural expression in a greater abstraction of form in particular, and the newly evolved steel-frame structural system was used to free the walls of a building from load-bearing function, allowing greater freedom in plan and elevation. The possibility of the high-rise was explored as a means of putting a halt to the spread of the suburb to the countryside and creating sunnier, more spacious homes, at a time when cholera was endemic to the cities and the brick back-to-back house was a symbol of deprivation, not of rose-tinted nostalgia. And the democratic promise was celebrated by the employment of industrial components not only in factory buildings but in furniture and houses.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Also like the architecture of the Renaissance, the buildings of the modern movement have proved to be not only visually and technically exciting but capable of existing in profound harmony with their man-made and natural environments. The Prince of Wales has argued that "architectural adventurousness, producing nontraditional, exciting design is certainly inappropriate in rural areas." If applied to history this would, of course, have ruled out the work of Palladio or Vanbrugh. But even in the context of the modern movement, anyone who has seen Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, Mies's Farnsworth House or Alvar Aalto's Villa Mairea, for instance, will know just how absurd it is to suggest that modern "adventurous" architecture is incapable of harmonising with its natural setting.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The same is true in the case of the city; buildings like Mies's Seagram Building, Wright's Guggenheim Museum and Roche and Dinkeloo's Ford Foundation, all in New York, prove that modern architecture can respond to an urban context in a manner that has never been surpassed. Fortunately, Britain is not without modern urban buildings that relate to their situation with a similar sensitivity. Sir Denys Lasdun's Royal College of Physicians, Alison and Peter Smithson's Economist Building in St. James's, YRM's own headquarters in the City, and Darbourne and Dark's Limington Garden Housing Estate in Victoria are some examples in London.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>The technological pioneers</strong></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">From its beginning, modern architecture, like its classical forerunners, has been concerned with incorporating new technology into its designs. Its best buildings have been infused with a spirit of innovation and discovery; they have celebrated the technology with which they were built. The excitement of a technologically adventurous architecture is evident in such modern masterpieces as Paxton's Crystal Palace, Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Factory in Wisconsin and Norman Foster's Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Today we are living through a period of enormous scientific and technical advance, perhaps a second industrial revolution, which offers architects an extraordinary opportunity to evolve new forms and materials. The computer, microchip, transputer, biotechnology and solid-state chemistry could lead to an enhanced environment, including more rather than less individual control and fewer uniform spaces. The best buildings of the future, for example, will interact dynamically with the climate in order to better meet the users' needs. Closer to robots than to temples, these chameleonlike apparitions with their changing surfaces are forcing us to once again rethink the art of architecture.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Architecture will not gain by clamping onto those technologically sophisticated constructions a collage of disposable symbols like decomposed classical columns, pediments and cornices, or flimsy Gothic turrets and Egyptian palm trees. Yet this Disneyland approach is what the Prince of Wales and his followers would seem to favour.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The rigid classicism espoused by some revivalist architects and favoured by the Prince is particularly inappropriate for modern buildings. Classicism is based on the Vitruvian principle that architecture is about creating a building of "rational" proportions, every bit of which has its fixed size and shape, so that nothing can be added or taken away without destroying the harmony of the whole. And the use and form of modern buildings change dramatically over short periods of time. A set of offices today might become an art gallery tomorrow; a perfume factory may switch to making electronics. And quite apart from the fact that buildings must be able to expand and contract and change their function, a third of a typical modern office is occupied with technology which will need to be replaced long before the building itself needs to be demolished. All this makes flexibility an essential feature of effective modern design and renders the classical style quite impractical.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In contrast to the Prince of Wales's historicist architects, who are besotted with a past that never existed, I believe in the rich potential of modern industrial society, and my own architecture has sought to respond to the needs of the most up-to-date scientific developments, exploiting the visual excitement that is inherent in them. My firm's design represents a search for an aesthetic which recognises that in a technological society change is the only constant: an aesthetic which allows some parts of a building to be added or altered without destroying the harmony of the whole composition. The Lloyds Building illustrates our approach; it is intended to create a balance between permanence and change; its flexible elements&#151;lifts, internal walls, air-conditioning and so forth&#151;permit improvisation within a determinate whole.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>Who are the critics?</strong></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Despite its achievements in the past decade, and its future potential, modern architecture has been exposed to a barrage of criticism. It is paradoxical, to say the least, that at a time when the public has expressed a dramatically heightened interest in modern art, and the value of paintings by the modern masters has exploded, the modern movements in architecture should come under such sustained attack. Is it coherent to extol the cubism of Picasso and Braque while castigating its architectural counterpart in the architecture of Corbusier? Many of the critics of modern architecture now seem to advocate the view that whereas art should be innovative and demanding, supplying new insights into our predicament, architecture should make us feel comfortable with ourselves and the nation we belong to.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The critics of contemporary architecture actually form a very diverse crowd, but while finding little else to agree on amongst themselves they are united on one point--they all claim to speak for the man on the street. It has now become an axiom, unquestioned by either its detractors or its defenders, that modernism is loathed by the public.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">My experience, arising from the work of my architectural practice, has been very different. More than five times as many people enter the Pompidou Centre every month as had originally been predicted: 70 million visitors in 10 years, more than the combined total of visitors to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The National Gallery completion in 1982 drew immense public interest and our project, though uncompromisingly modern, gained the highest number of public votes, both for and against! Just as many people go to see the interior of Lloyds (up to 2,000 per day) as visit many of our national museums. What then is the public's antipathy towards modern architecture?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This unfounded view that all modern architecture is unpopular is, of course, closely associated with the Prince of Wales. The Prince's contribution to the architectural debate and his intervention in a number of important competitions and public inquiries has been given extensive and often enthusiastic media coverage, but what has been the impact of his involvement?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The Prince's apologists argue that his opinions reflect those of his subjects&#151;the silent majority&#151;sand that his interventions, despite appearances, are thoroughly democratic. Certainly the process by which planning decisions are made is a forbidding byzantine complexity and probably needs reforming. Nevertheless, this slow, expensive, often obscure haggling between different interest groups&#151;commercial and environmental, national and local&#151;is a rough, if flawed, approximation of democracy. Most of the participants of this process and the decisions they reach are ultimately accountable to one electorate or another. The Prince answers to no one.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>The effect of criticism</strong></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The Prince is an advocate of community architecture, and he claims that he wishes to see greater openness about the way planning decisions are made; but his own conduct contradicts this public stand. The Prince prefers to exercise his newfound prerogative as the nation's supreme aesthetic arbiter more surreptitiously, by paying secret visits to developers of important architectural projects or talking privately with the juries of major competitions.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In a similar manner we are assured that the Prince's judgements are not amateur or uninformed because he has gathered around himself a royal council of architectural "advisers"; however, he will not publicly disclose the identity of these secret courtiers. Perhaps these inconsistencies point to a deeper contradiction in the Prince's stand. The claim to be defending a democratic approach to architecture does not sit easily with his own inherited authority. The Prince might like to consider whether the charges of paternalism and unaccountability, with which he criticises architects, might not more aptly be directed towards his own way of doing things.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Lest it be argued that the Prince's interventions are never decisive and therefore not undemocratic, I can cite the important competition for Paternoster Square in the neighbourhood of St. Paul's Cathedral. This was probably the first international competition set up by a developer to judge a commercial development in London. The jury&#151;including some distinguished architects and critics&#151;selected two winners, Arup Associates and my own firm. The effect of the Prince's (secret) intervention was that we were asked to resign.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The Prince's intervention was even more dramatic on two earlier occasions: Mies van der Rohe's designs for Mansion House and Ahrends Burton and Koralek's extension for the National Gallery. In both of these cases there is little doubt that the Prince's public outbursts determined the outcome of the relevant planning inquiries. Neither does the Prince show any sign of curbing his undemocratic intervention in the system of public inquiries he professes to admire. In 1988 the Prince criticised James Stirling's design for the Mansion House site with the barb that it looked like a 1930s radio; the Prince knew that the planning inquiry concerning this scheme was at a crucial moment in its deliberation and must have intended to affect its outcome.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">No doubt the Prince's influence is usually less direct that it has been on these occasions; however, this only renders it more invidious. Rather than risk incurring the disapproval of the heir apparent, architects and their clients now try and guess the Prince's preference, submitting self-censored designs that they hope will meet his approval.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">For example, the Prince's "carbuncle" outburst and his preference for classical revival architecture signalled to the organisers and competitors of the National Gallery competition that modern architecture should be excluded from the shortlist, and so pastiche ruled the day. The office of I. M. Pei, well known for its modernist designs, entered artfully rendered drawings of a neoclassical mausoleum .This contrasted with its design for the entrance to the Louvre a couple of years later for President Mitterrand: a simple, abstract pyramid using the most refined form of glass and steel technology available to create a sophisticated contemporary building. We must assume the differences between the two buildings reflect the foreigner's view of the respective tastes of England and France.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">While claiming to advocate a democratic architecture, the Prince's outbursts have created a spate of mock-imperial palaces. One needs only look at the result of the competition of the ambassador's residence in Moscow, of all places. There the jury has made Britain a laughingstock by choosing as "a show piece for Britain" a classical pastiche. Britain's tribute to a new epoch in East-West relations looks like a stage set for The Three Musketeers.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Time and again the Prince has singled out individual architects for criticism; in doing so he is violating the principles of a constitutional monarchy. The Prince should keep his views at a general rather than personal level. Criticising individual architects, after all, is not any different from criticising individual doctors, lawyers, teachers or even politicians. It is particularly regrettable, however, that those whom he singles out&#151;Prof. Colin St. John Wilson, Sir Denys Lasdun, James Stirling&#151;are internationally acknowledged to be among our very best architects. They are also some of the few British architects who have avoided the large commercial schemes which have been the ruin of so much of our environment. In fact, Wilson, Lasdun and Stirling were amongst the most vocal critics of the quality of British architecture long before the media jumped on this issue. By singling out these influential architects, the Prince has wasted the opportunity to involve them in a constructive and nonpartisan campaign to improve architectural standards.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Our royal family have had a poor record as patrons of the arts and sciences. As yet there is little to suggest that the Prince is an exception in this respect. As a man with strong views about architecture, with a high public profile and enormous private wealth, he has had an extraordinary opportunity to commission buildings for his large estates. But he has yet to produce a noteworthy construction. Where are the commissions to compare with Inigo Jones's Queen House for James I, Nash's Royal Pavilion, for the Prince Regent, or the Crystal Palace, for Prince Albert? Neither have the Prince's broadcast and speeches been notable for their scholarly depth. Any number of increasingly facile barbs in the "carbuncle" mould can not make up for an in-depth and historical examination of the choices facing architects and the public. In fact, the real sadness is that public discussion of architecture has been dominated by invective and vilification rather than informed debate.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-size:x-small;"><strong>The crisis of cities</strong></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Is an architectural style responsible for the disfigurement of our environment? This is the real question, and if the opponents of modernism could stop their campaign of vilification for long enough to pose it to themselves they would realise how implausible their position is. The conservationists are right in saying that much that has been built in Britain since the war is quite appalling and the centre of many of our principal cities have been destroyed. But it is quite unjust to make the modern movement--or any other movement, for that matter--the scapegoat for this. For as long as we continue to treat the construction of a building as solely an economic venture, our cities, towns and villages will become less and less attractive places to live in.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Of course, architects have played their part in this debacle. They have been only too willing to concur with their clients, whether developers or public authorities, in the view that their job is to produce a commodity&#151;architecture&#151;which has no bearing on the public at large. But while not wishing to exonerate the architects who have designed the cheap, shoddy developments, I take the view that blaming them alone obscures the extent to which the large corporations, developers and government are deeply implicated. If a quick profit is the only consideration, then the most valuable architect is one who can get round the planning system, build faster and use the cheapest materials. So it is hardly surprising that buildings reflect the narrow interests of the marketplace rather than the long-term needs of the community.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">President Mitterrand committed himself not to the rhetoric but to the practicalities of promoting higher architectural standards. By staging a large number of competitions for young and experienced architects alike, by setting aside funds for big public projects and by encouraging and sometimes compelling public authorities and private companies to stop using routine developers' architects, the French government has radically improved the quality of the nation's architecture, promoting a new generation of talented designers. The fruits of this policy are there to be seen, not only in the splendid "grand projects" going up all over Paris, like the Louvre pyramid, but also in other remarkable constructions appearing throughout France.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Our cities are in crisis. These once-great centres of civic life have become urban jungles, where the profiteer and the vehicle rule. Lack of foresight and private greed have eroded this once-public realm. There is apparently no modern equivalent to the sense of patronage which engendered the great parks, the marketplaces, the fountains and the majestic tree-lined avenues of the Georgian epoch. John Nash's Regent's Park is in one respect nothing but an enormous developer's housing estate. But it is also a progressive, daring and, of course, beautiful piece of urban planning. Its realisation required determination and vision. Today the little planning that does go on is administered by bureaucratic planning authorities--negative forces with extensive powers of refusal and delay, and entirely lacking the will or the resources to take creative steps to improve the dire condition of our environment.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Britain is uniquely deprived in this respect. On the Continent, improvements which repair and enrich the fabric of its cities are in progress everywhere. Municipal governments from Helsinki to Naples are excluding traffic from their city centres, at least at peak times. Meanwhile, the famous agoras of London, the "people's places," such as Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Parliament Square, are becoming ever more dangerous and congested roundabouts. Planning needs vision and large-scale coordination; at the very least, public authorities must be willing to insert demanding environmental standards into the planning laws, making balconies, parks and cultural amenities as obligatory as fire escapes. Until governments become seriously involved in giving direction, a polluting commercialism will rule and ruin our cities.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Before we can hope to overcome the ugly legacy of the last decades, we must recognise both the fragile beauty of the universe and the enormity of the environmental crisis which is threatening mankind. We delude ourselves if we think that returning to a make-believe past can solve this crisis. In fact, the danger we face is not being too modern but, rather, not being modern enough. In architecture, as elsewhere, it is only through the development of the most modern ideas and techniques that we can solve the problems that confront us. We have made great progress in both science and art. As a result, for the first time, we have the power to transform our society. But only with an equal advance in ethics, rendering our public life our first concern, can we make our world a more beautiful and humane place to live in.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; font-style:italic; ">Copyright Richard Rogers.</span></p> </td> </tr> </tbody></table> </body></html>