Norman Foster: I’d love to talk to King Charles about architecture
The Modernist architect has offered an apparent olive branch to the new king, with whom he hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye.
As Prince of Wales, Charles was a vocal supporter of traditional architecture, which was adopted in his Poundbury development in Dorset.
And back in 2009, Foster was one of a number of architects to condemn the then prince for using ‘his privileged position’ to intervene in the design process for Richard Rogers’ Chelsea Barracks scheme in London.
But speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday morning (9 May), Foster said he would now be keen to have a conversation with Charles about the ‘benefits of change’ in architecture.
Asked if he was looking forward to chatting to the new monarch about his ‘strong views on architecture’ if he got the chance, Foster said he’d relish it.
The 87-year-old architect said: ‘I’d love to have the opportunity of talking [to him] about the benefits of change, of architecture, of a healthier architecture and architecture which is more sustainable, and of course the infrastructure of the city.’
He added: ‘That is the urban glue, the connection, the bridges that bind the individual buildings together. And the city has been described as our greatest invention and it is very much the future and it’s very much the response to climate change.’
Charles is well-known for his strong views on architecture during his lifetime – including his especially trenchant views on Modernism expressed in his infamous RIBA 150th anniversary speech in 1984. But during a 2018 interview he vowed he would not ‘meddle’ in architecture once he became King, as ‘ it is a separate exercise being sovereign’.
Foster’s comments come more than 14 years after he joined five winners of the Pritzker Prize, including Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano and Frank Gehry, in criticising the then Prince of Wales for trying to interfere with the democratic process by using his royal connections to stop modernist plans for Richard Rogers’ Chelsea Barracks site (pictured bottom).
In a letter to the Sunday Times, the architects wrote: ‘It is essential in a modern democracy that private comments and behind-the-scenes lobbying by the prince should not be used to skew the course of an open and democratic planning process that is under way.’
The architects were moved to write the letter following reports that Prince Charles had privately contacted developers Qatari Diar, backed by the Qatari royal family, to recommend alternative plans by Classical architect Quinlan Terry.
Earlier in today’s interview, Foster welcomed what he described as a return to ‘traditional, pedestrian friendly’ cities that were ‘more healthy, greener, more friendly’, explaining that the car has ‘had its peak’.
Asked about the role of architects in light of this change, Foster said: ‘I think you have to go back to the roots of what we call modern architecture, which is not about style or fashion. It was a response to health, to public health.
‘It was the era of tuberculosis, and modern architecture brought in the contact with nature and really establishing a better balance between the inside and the outside of spaces.’
Foster recently featured in the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust’s booklet How we celebrate the Coronation: Designs for a new reign – a series of 55 short essays aimed at provoking a debate about the urban environment.