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Prince Charles: ‘ Ugly Buildings’

It would be a tragedy if the character and skyline of our capital city were to be further
ruined and St Paul’s dwarfed by yet another giant glass stump, better suited to
downtown Chicago than the City of London. It is hard to imagine that London before the
last war must have had one of the most beautiful skylines of any great city, if those who
recall it are to be believed. Those who do, say that the affinity between buildings and the
earth, in spite of the city’s immense size, was so close and organic that the houses
looked almost as though they had grown out of the earth and had not been imposed
upon it – grown, moreover, in such a way that as few trees as possible were thrust out of
the way. Those who knew it then and loved it, as so many British love Venice without
concrete stumps and glass towers, and those who can imagine what it was like, must
associate with the sentiments in one of Aldous Huxley’s earliest and most successful
novels. Antic Hay, where the main character, an unsuccessful architect, reveals a model
of London as Christopher Wren wanted to rebuild it after the Great Fire and describes
how Wren was so obsessed with the opportunity the fire gave the city to rebuild itself
into a greater and more glorious vision. What, then, are we doing to our capital city now?
What have we done to it since the bombing during the war? What are we shortly going to
do to one of its most famous areas – Trafalgar Square? Instead of designing an extension
to the elegant facade of the National Gallery which complements it and continues the
concept of columns and domes, it looks as if we may be presented with a kind of vast
municipal fire station, complete with the sort of tower that contains the siren.
I would understand better this type of High Tech approach if you demolished the whole of
Trafalgar Square and started again with a single architect responsible for the entire
layout, but what is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved
and elegant friend. Apart from anything else, it defeats me why anyone wishing to display
the early Renaissance pictures belonging to the gallery should do so in a new gallery so
manifestly at odds with the whole spirit of that age of astonishing proportion. Why can’t
we have those curves and arches that express feeling in design? What is wrong with
them? Why has everything got to be vertical, straight, unbending, only at right angles –
and functional?