President, Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to join you here this evening to help you celebrate the 125th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter and the 30th of your Planning and Development Faculty. My warmest congratulations on both these anniversaries. Incidentally, you might be intrigued to know that I employ fourteen Chartered Surveyors and two Chartered Building Surveyors through the Duchy of Cornwall – an astonishing record of loyalty and devotion to the R.I.C.S.!
I must say, I can't help thinking it is rather brave of me of me to accept your kind invitation as the very act of raising the recumbent royal head above the parapet of a professional association tends to unleash a barrage of abuse! Either I am written off as old-fashioned and out of touch or, more likely at present, accused of interfering in politics. In today's extraordinary world even talking about the weather seems to be a political act! It's all rather confusing really…!
So, just to speak about our built environment, which is a subject about which I care deeply, may invite a thunderbolt of retribution from Mount Olympus! Now, as members of this distinguished Institution know, the built environment is an issue that lies at the heart of people's mental and physical wellbeing. The way we design the places where we live, work and spend our leisure has a profound affect on our society as a whole. This is not just a matter of architectural style, but of creating better communities, and your Institution has a vital leadership role in ensuring that we build those communities for the long term.
I think you share with me a global concern, across your many specialisms, for the fair and sustainable use of resources. Your Presidential Commissions on sustainability and disaster management are two recent important aspects of your global thinking. But as you think globally, you act locally, as I have tried to do in my own venture into the building of sustainable communities at Poundbury, near Dorchester.
Here, I have been trying to put my money where my mouth is in creating an example of a mixed-use, pedestrian-orientated community that reflects local character and local tradition. My main aim has been to provide a place that I hope might improve the quality of life of the eventual residents as well as enhance the landscape in which it is set as an attempt to break the conventional mould of building housing estates. The obvious starting point was to analyze the successful places and buildings that people have enjoyed living in for centuries and to draw out the lessons of why they are still so popular today. Then I wanted to know how these lessons could be developed to make them better suited to contemporary needs.
Now that over 1000 people live there and 650 people work there, I hope that Poundbury has proved the point that it is in fact possible to break the conventional mould of zoned development and create a mixed-use community. Its lessons are simple: a network of legible, interconnected streets that accommodate the car while celebrating the pedestrian; the principle of encompassing work, play, shopping and living in a harmonious way within walkable distances; the “pepper-potting” of affordable housing and private housing; and, finally, the reliance on traditional urbanism, local vernacular architecture and natural materials to restore a sense of harmony, proportion and, above all, beauty to
Incidentally, the Guinness Trust – which is providing most of the affordable housing there – tells us that Poundbury is its most successful and trouble-free site. Why? Because of a far higher general satisfaction level than anywhere else: and this is due chiefly to the pleasure people experience in living in nice houses – houses that I would be prepared to live in, or beside, myself. As a result, the affordable housing at Poundbury is indistinguishable from that sold on the open market – a market that has been quite responsive, by the way, and commanded something of a premium!
I am also trying to demonstrate the long-term value of building in an ecologically sustainable way at Poundbury, in a joint venture between the Duchy of Cornwall and Cornhill Estates. Those of you visiting Poundbury shortly will be able to see the fruits of this project in a number of new homes which will, I hope, serve as a model for further development in achieving the Eco-Homes Excellent rating. In this, I am conscious of the mounting evidence, including that provided by your own excellent report last October, linking the market value of a property and its environmental friendliness. Not only can “green” buildings earn higher rents and prices, but also cost less to operate and maintain. I hope this will go some way to convincing even the most hard-headed commercial operators that sustainability is something worth thinking about!
So what about the future?
First and foremost, I believe that there is a profound need to move toward architecture, planning and building that reconnect the human and natural worlds with one another. Just as the connection with Nature reminds us of matters above and beyond ourselves, so the city – rightly conceived – can remind us of both our dependence upon, and our responsibility for, others; and for the greater good.
Study of traditional architecture throughout history, and across the world, has revealed the widespread use of specific proportions in designing pleasing, human-scaled buildings and towns. Architectural proportioning reflects a consensus throughout the human family that the highest function of architecture was to place humans and their artefacts in harmony with their environment, through the use of universal languages for describing that environment: such as arithmetic, geometry, musical harmony and astronomy. This can help us to understand why well-loved places have endured, and also how to make places today that can be as well-loved by future generations.
Underlying all of this is the much-misunderstood concept of tradition – often derided or neutralized into the term traditionalism. Traditionalism makes us forget how tradition really works; just as modernism has blinded us to what it means to be truly modern. These terms encourage us to see tradition and modernity as enemies, whereas in any sane society they would be the best of friends. Tradition, in truth, is not about style: it is about learning from the best of what has gone before. It is something infinitely varied, infinitely adaptable, infinitely changing – a language, even a dialect, that is based on a coherent grammar, allowing infinite flexibility and creativity within a discipline.
It is just that so many of us are terrified of being thought of as old-fashioned, out of touch, and “not modern.” And yet why can't we be concerned about being human – for that way lies true modernity, poised at the point of balance between the past and the future. Just stop and think for a moment why it is that so many people want to live in the lovely old conservation areas of our towns and cities – the bits that weren't knocked down in the 1950's, 60's and 70's.
Why do they want to live in such places – and to visit them abroad on their holidays? (I bet you want to live in such places!) Because their essential characteristics of harmonious proportions, of human scale and hierarchy, strike a common chord within our hearts. These are the subtle qualities of architecture that so many people find instinctively beautiful. But their origins lie in shared human psychology; which – as new research is confirming – is intimately connected to human well-being.
Tradition, rightly understood, is a framework for confronting and responding to the complex problems of urbanization and globalization. As Goethe said, we should be “tending the fire, not the ashes” of our past.
One of the greatest challenges we face today is that of sustainability. Modernism has led us to seek answers in a host of technical “fixes”. Traditionalism often only pays it lip service. Real traditional thinking has always tried to see the whole picture. You only have to spend time in great buildings like the Alhambra, or the Alcazar, in Andalusia, to understand how – with a total absence of flashy tricks – climate, temperature and light can all be controlled at once, with minimum impact on the Earth. We see in such masterpieces of tradition a comprehension of natural and human systems as complementary and intertwined.
As all of you in this room will be aware, new analysis techniques, new scientific knowledge, new technologies, all offer opportunities to reduce energy use, water consumption and waste. The adaptation of new systems to a traditional framework that already has proven sustainable over many generations is likely to have a much greater impact than purely “hi-tech” methods, which so often seem to turn out to have unforeseen consequences and side-effects.
Traditional urbanism, after all, provides an enduring framework for creating sustainable communities. Compact, walkable, mixed communities designed around the pedestrian, while accommodating the car, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle travel, reduce household spending on transportation and give busy families more choices.
So often, however, we find that the kinds of communities that work best cannot be built, due to the specialised and reductive nature of the modern planning process. The design standards imposed by the highway engineering profession are particularly damaging to community, as they ensure the dominance of the motor vehicle over the pedestrian, even within the neighbourhood. If I may say so, your profession could be of great help with this challenge of converting the planning and engineering professions, as surely you have noticed that well-proportioned neighbourhoods of the Georgian and Victorian era hold value far better than the monocultural housing estates of the past fifty years.
And what, apart from Poundbury, am I doing about all this, I hear you cry?
Some of those here today may already be aware of the work of my Foundation for the Built Environment. Established in 1999, it brought together a number of separate initiatives, dedicated to improving the quality of people's lives by teaching and practising timeless ways of building. It is now one of sixteen charities of which I am President, and which together comprise an effort to address the fundamental need for interconnectedness between the human and natural worlds.
The Foundation challenges the architectural, planning and building professions to design in a way that learns from the past and that enriches, rather than denigrates, human aspirations, while still meeting more basic needs. In no arena is this challenge more pertinent than the urgent environmental agenda. The effort to demonstrate and teach that traditional architecture, building and urbanism can effectively deliver truly sustainable development is an integral part of both our education programme and our ongoing practice work.
In our educational programmes, as well as our project and research work, The Prince's Foundation is demonstrating that traditional architecture and building techniques in themselves make a substantial contribution to sustainability, in the same way that locally-derived settlement and building traditions, and local materials reflect time-tested adaptation to place and climate.
To achieve the delivery of these principles, an essential factor is, if at all possible, to allow those who will live in the community an opportunity to participate in the planning process. With strong leadership, “many hands” can enrich rather than muddle the design. In order to engage the many parties needed to plan and build a place, the Foundation has pioneered a process called Enquiry by Design, with English Partnerships, in the design of the extension to the city of Northampton.
I need hardly say how marvellous it would be if your Institution could find ways to work with my Foundation for the Built Environment, for we share many goals in common. The Foundation's emphasis on practice-based learning has led to the creation of an education programme teaching urban design and development in an interdisciplinary manner. I can only say that your organization would be an invaluable partner in this endeavour. Indeed, in one part of this programme, entitled “Building for the Future”, we are already working with one of your Fellows, Professor David Cadman, who is also one of my Foundation's Senior Fellows. Here we are bringing together a number of different disciplines, including engineering, economics, urban design and architecture, to study the matter of sustainability and the built environment. We would greatly welcome your collaboration in this….
You might also be interested to hear about the way my Foundation has been trying to help tackle a problem that faces so many young people today – not least in rural areas: that of affordable housing. In the Lake District, for example, the minimum house price is £150,000 while the average income is generally £12,000 to £15,000, so it is not difficult to see the problem. I was particularly interested to see that some major housebuilders, such as Barratts and Redrow, have also recognized this issue and are launching a number of new initiatives to help first-time buyers. And yet, it can sometimes be difficult to overcome objections to new, cheaper housing.
A few weeks ago, I visited a successful affordable housing scheme in Pooley Bridge, in Cumbria, to launch a new design guide as part of my Rural Affordable Housing initiative. The design guide, produced by my Foundation, aims to ensure that affordable housing is sympathetic to the local environment – something I believe is crucial to gaining local people's support and something that I hope will have a lot of resonance around this room.
Another of my initiatives in the property world is The Prince's Regeneration Trust, whose mission is to help rescue the larger historic buildings where other solutions have proved difficult to find. We have recently completed the conversion of one of the few surviving nineteenth-century mill buildings in Paisley, near Glasgow, where by bringing together local and Government funding agencies and private partners in the form of Persimmon Homes and Morrison Supermarkets, we have created sixty stunning loft apartments and over 2,000 square feet of business space.
This type of restoration not only saves a landmark building, but acts as a broader catalyst to regenerate the surrounding community – a point well made in an excellent article by Susan Bevan and Alan Dobie in the current issue of RICS Business. At a time when so many redundant Government buildings are coming on to the market, surely here is a wonderful opportunity to work together with home-builders and developers to use our heritage assets creatively and sustainably.
Chartered Surveyors around the world have a key role to play in the way we live and work in the future on this increasingly crowded planet. However, in congratulating this Institution on reaching so many anniversaries, I am sure that I need hardly remind you of the great responsibility you have for the welfare of future generations.
Happily, I feel a new consensus emerging – a new kind of modernity, if you will. It implies that we can find effective ways of dealing with the big problems of our day, which do not oblige us to bury beneath our abstractions the very things that make life worth living. And it requires we build again the types of places we all know strike a chord in our bewildered hearts – however “modern” we are – places that convey an everlasting human story of meaning and belonging.