In an unexpected turn of events, Blueprint itself has been in the news over the last month, resulting in our editor, Vicky Richardson being invited to chair the annual conference of an organisation called Republic on 20 June. After a group of architects called for a boycott of Prince Charles’ anniversary lecture to RIBA, our editor took a more direct approach and suggested firmly at the end of the lecture, that it would be better to ‘abolish the monarchy’. Seems reasonable enough. Yet the heckle was reported in most of the broadsheets and the BBC, proving that monarchists are second only to certain bloggers when it comes to thin skins and twistable knickers. In the trade press, Building Design called, rather excessively, for our editor’s decapitation, while the Architect’s Journal went for casual sexism, describing her as a ‘naughty girl’. But The Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts showed them all up as amateurs when it comes to bigotry, unleashing a misogynistic attack and, rather bizarrely, using the incident as a reason to disband Boris Johnson’s Cultural Strategy Group. Of course, when the Daily Mail hates you, you must be doing something right.
Like the MPs expenses, the story of the Prince’s lecture rumbled on way longer than was interesting, and the follow-up to the speech itself was predictable: Simon Jenkins got a chance to rewrite the article he’s been trotting out for the last ten years or so, accusing architects of churning out ‘energy-guzzling glass boxes, lumps, blobs and phalluses’. Sunand Prasad and Amanda Baillieu defended their turf rather than going to the root of the argument. FAT architect Sam Jacobs said we should end this petty squabbling and turn to computer games for inspiration. The Richard Rogers scheme for Chelsea Barracks, which was at the centre of much of the arguments, still appears to be on a knife-edge.
An interesting point of comparison comes in the form of the New Acropolis Museum, Bernard Tschumi’s building in Athens that, it is hoped, will one day house the full set of Elgin Marbles. Located in the shadow of the Acropolis, the museum faced a rather more challenging and sensitive context than Chelsea Barracks. The Architectural Review published an excoriating review of the building, written by Alexandra Stara, who railed against the “relentless banality of its spaces, consistently poor material choices and frightful detailing.” Compromise, controversy and delays have certainly dogged the building ever since Tschumi won the competition and the architect’s regularly reiterated determination to be humble always ran the risk of blandness. Yet when faced with a context true classicism, the (incidentally republican) Greek government realized from the start that mimicry was never a viable option. The building now promises to provoke more fruitful debate over quality and architectural vision in the face of heritage than a 1000 princely interventions.