Building Museum honors prince for his royal clout

AGRICULTURE

Architecure

November 07, 2005|By EDWARD GUNTS | EDWARD GUNTS,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

He may be the heir to the British throne, but he's also gained international recognition as a foe of bad architecture -- and an ally of those who want to improve the built environment.

During his visit to Washington last week, Prince Charles reinforced that reputation by opening two exhibits at the National Building Museum that document his efforts to fight "uglification" and raise the quality of architecture and urban design around the world.

The first, titled Civitas: Traditional Urbanism in Contemporary Practice, features 16 developments that exemplify planning principles Prince Charles endorses.

The second, A Building Tradition: The Work of the Prince's School of Traditional Arts, shows mosaics, stained glass, ceramics and other works created by students and staff from the institute Prince Charles established in Great Britain to foster use of traditional crafts in contemporary buildings.

FOR THE RECORD - The date of the invitation-only grand opening reception for the Maryland Humanities Council's new headquarters at 108 W. Centre St. in Baltimore was listed incorrectly in Monday's Today section. The event will be held tomorrow.

Both exhibits will be on display until Jan. 8 at the museum, 401 F St. N.W.

For his advocacy of good design, the museum's board gave Prince Charles one of its highest honors, the Vincent Scully Prize. Named after a former architectural history professor at Yale University, the award recognizes "exemplary practice, scholarship and criticism in architecture, landscape architecture, historic preservation or urban design."

"At the grave and constant risk of personal unpopularity, you have courageously revived, defended and sustained the most humane principles of British and American architecture and town planning," Scully said in presenting the award to the Prince of Wales.

"We here in the United States ... have followed the long course of your campaign with admiration and gratitude, since it seems to us that you are fighting a fight that is ours as well," he said.

Prince Charles told an audience of 1,200 museum guests that he was gratified by the recognition.

"I seem to be a dangerous commodity in certain circles, and receiving such an award is a relatively novel experience for me," he said.

The prince first showed public interest in the built environment in the 1980s, when he voiced disapproval of a planned Modernist addition to Britain's National Gallery by calling it a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of the much-loved and elegant friend."

That pronouncement and others in the same vein triggered a debate between those who favor traditional approaches to design and modern architects who do not look to the past for inspiration. Modernists, such as Richard Rogers, had to worry that prospective clients wouldn't hire them if Prince Charles objected to their work.

Prince Charles first brought his message to the United States 15 years ago, expressing support for a design movement that has come to be known as new urbanism.

In 1990, he outlined his views at a sold-out "Accent on Architecture" gala sponsored by the American Institute of Architects in the Great Hall of the National Building Museum.

He also became a scholar and patron of architecture, seeking the counsel of experts such as Leon Krier and Christopher Alexander and establishing charities such as the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, which seeks to improve the quality of people's lives by teaching a timeless way of building.

The Prince's Regeneration Trust promotes the "rescue and regeneration of redundant buildings of historic and architectural importance."

His School of Traditional Arts aims to teach arts and crafts skills which have profound roots in all the major faith traditions. The school has also developed outreach programs for Muslim communities and younger people in particular -- both in the United Kingdom and in Muslim countries -- establishing vocational courses to teach crafts and building links with universities and other institutions, especially in the Arab and Asian worlds.

Prince Charles also has become a developer, creating the mixed-use community of Poundbury on lands within the Duchy of Cornwall. He produced an educational film for the British Broadcasting Corp. titled A Vision of Britain, and wrote a book with the same name.

On this trip to America, with his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, he renewed his call for a more humane architecture, one that "reconnects the human and natural worlds with one another" and helps tell "the irresistible story of human character and idiosyncrasy."

Although Prince Charles has become known as a supporter of traditional architecture, he said he never meant to suggest that was the only acceptable approach to design.

"It is certainly not my intention to try to impose any single notion of tradition on people," he said, adding that he simply wants people to "be able to satisfy their intuitive hunger for traditional things."

Joseph Riley's view

Joseph Riley, the mayor of Charleston, S.C., and a nationally known expert on urban revitalization, will come to Baltimore this week to give his view of the city's redevelopment.

"Baltimore Renaissance: An Outsider's Point of View" is the title of Riley's talk. It begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Brown Center, part of the Maryland Institute College of Art, 1301 Mount Royal Ave. It will be preceded by a reception at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Humanities council

On Friday, the Maryland Humanities Council will hold a grand opening for its new headquarters in the former Home Mutual Life Insurance Company building at 108 W. Centre St..

"This central location will enable the council both to raise its visibility and to expand partnerships and collaborations," said Stanley C. Gabor, chairman of the board of directors.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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