A Vision of Britain – HRH The Prince of Wales

No prizes for guessing what put Prince Charles on my mind this week of his coronation as King Charles III and I knew I had a copy of this book on the shelves where it has been since I bought it new in 1989. The original version of this was a television programme broadcast by the BBC on the 28th October 1988 as part of the a documentary series called Omnibus, the script for this was then expanded and somewhat re-arranged to make the book. The main theme of the book is what Prince Charles sees as the destruction of the built landscape with modernist construction replacing beautiful old buildings especially in London although he does occasionally step outside the capital memorably describing the brutalist central library in Birmingham as

It looks to me like a place books are incinerated, not kept!

Page 32

I must admit that I tend to agree with Charles on that one and it wasn’t much loved by most people in the city which meant that although it was only built in 1973 it has since been demolished, although quite what Prince Charles thinks of the replacement I have no idea. It’s definitely an improvement and I really like the inside which is light and airy rather than the gloomy previous building.

Charles is often regarded as having a rather twee view of architecture, a classic example of which is Poundbury which as it says on the town website.

Poundbury is an urban extension to the Dorset county town of Dorchester, designed in accordance with the principles of architecture and urban planning as advocated by His Majesty, King Charles III, in his book ‘A Vision of Britain’.

Not many books can claim to have been the basis for an entire town of 4,600 people, planned to rise to 6,000 when development is completed in a couple of years. And whilst it is rather fake looking in places it is a viable community with businesses, schools and other civic amenities created within it rather than thought about afterwards which seems to be the current process for new built large developments. Charles is still involved in the overall design plan for Poundbury and whilst I don’t think I would want to live there I can see what he tried to do.

The book is particularly scathing about architectural developments in the UK since WWII and whilst he does find much to praise this is invariably where the architect has looked backwards in history for inspiration. The book is heavily illustrated both of buildings he likes and those derided and you quickly get the feeling for his ten principals for good buildings and design. In summary these are:

  • The Place – respect for the existing landscape
  • Hierarchy – the importance of a building should be obvious
  • Scale – size of buildings in relation to the buildings surrounding them
  • Harmony – buildings should not be jarringly different from their neighbours
  • Enclosure – public squares and enclosed spaces rather than row upon row of similar houses
  • Materials – use local materials where possible, the beauty of our ancient towns and cities constructed of local stone and brick
  • Decoration – there should be some, not the all too common featureless brick walls
  • Art – again have some
  • Signs and Lights – these are necessary but need not be overwhelming and should be well designed
  • Community – building a community with spaces for people to gather is essential

All in all the book definitely expresses a vision for the future even if a lot of it is deeply rooted in the past. Thirty five years after he made the documentary Charles still very much believes in what he said then. There are buildings he hates in the book which I quite like and as I said I wouldn’t want to live in Poundbury but there is a lot to agree with him. There have been some truly awful buildings created and a lot of really lovely ones lost in the last eighty years.


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