Motion: Prince Charles was right: modern architecture is still all glass stumps and carbuncles.
New rules at Intelligence Squared. For the debate on architecture the speakers were offered the use of a slide projector. Opening for the motion Roger Scruton described modern architecture as ‘a grammarless chaos’ in which buildings ‘aren’t made for the city but against it’. Like a softly spoken Moses he laid down his three architectural commandments. 1. A town is a home where strangers can enjoy a shared sense of belonging. 2. Buildings should fit together organically and be capable of accepting additions and developments. 3. Genius is as rare among architects as it is among the rest of us. (That got a big laugh.) This was a beautifully crafted, very funny speech full of unshowy profundities. Stephen Bayley began with an anecdote about his attempt to persuade Prince Charles to open the Design Museum in 1989. ‘Mr Bayley,’ came the royal rebuff, ‘Why does it have a flat roof?’ Bayley accused the Prince of ‘stultifying negativism’ — not to his face, of course — and suggested that he lacked ‘a scintilla of intellectual enquiry’. Though Bayley speaks faster than a greyhound runs he’s always excellent value. He suggested that the debate’s true subject was ‘hatred of novelty and experimentation, a fear of the future and opposition to the creative spirit’. Simon Jenkins reminded us that ‘concrete stump architecture’, the style we call ‘modernism’, evolved in Germany between the wars and was fundamentally contrarian. ‘It pretended you didn’t need or want to refer back to the past.’ Only two groups of customers exist for this architecture. Local councillors who want to create a social utopia, ‘though they know they’ll never have to live in the buildings themselves’. And large corporations who fancy ostentatious offices. ‘But when they get rich where do they go? A nice Georgian house in Mayfair.’