I must say, ladies and gentlemen, it is a mystery to me why you should want to invite me to one of your more prestigious evenings. I tried to make it as difficult for you as I could by saying I couldn't come on the evening before, which was the original date you had chosen. But no, you even changed the date. Is there an epidemic of masochism sweeping the ranks of the AIA? While in Florida I read in the newspapers (it must be true!) that architects were queuing up to be "bashed" by The Prince - apparently architect-bashing is my second favourite sport to polo. Somehow I don't think it would make a very good field sport because, unlike some others, the quarry has a nasty habit of shooting back!
Perhaps you have asked me because you lack excitement in your lives and, lurking deep down in every architect's subconscious, is a desire to live dangerously? The poor old RIBA made a terrible error when they asked me to their 150th Anniversary Dinner. The irony of it all is that I assumed they wanted me to make an after-dinner speech (like this evening), but this was not the case. Transatlantic fraternisation seems to have led to a recent editorial in one of your magazines warning you not to become my "pawns" - in the way your English counterparts have become. I hadn't noticed that this was the case, I must say, but perhaps, on this occasion, I can add a little "sauce piquante" to the "pawn cocktail" gathered here?
I hope you realise how difficult it is to address such a distinguished assembly outside of Great Britain. Choosing a theme has nearly ruined my health ? apart from anything else, I don't want to create a diplomatic incident - particularly as I read somewhere recently that President Bush is supposed to be a 13th cousin of my wife! I am also conscious that I may easily be accused of Royal interference in American domestic affairs.
There has been an exchange of architectural talent between our two countries for a long time, albeit until recently on a fairly modest scale. There are one or two buildings in London which stand out by their quality and which, upon further examination, turn out to have been designed or inspired by Americans. The first store in London to rival your department stores - Selfridges on Oxford Street - has really never been bettered as a civilised piece of 'retail development'. Bush House - famed as the home of the BBC World Service - was designed by an American. The sculpture gallery at the Tate, which has just been restored to its full classical grandeur, is by the same John Russell Pope who is responsible for your National Gallery here in Washington.
'Exchange' has also occurred in the opposite direction - despite Thomas Jefferson's unpromising comment that, "English Architecture is in the most wretched style I ever saw." I think he might have revised this opinion had he seen the Residence at the British Embassy here in Washington, designed by the incomparable Sir Edwin Lutyens. And the designer of the original Capitol - the Frenchman Benjamin Latrobe - learnt his art under England's Sir John Soane. This cultural exchange continues between us today, and is increasing - in quantity if not always in quality! There is much of positive value that our two cultures share. However our cities also share a number of unfortunate legacies from the past, and vision is going to be needed among architects and developers if we are to be able to cope with these.
I'm sure many of you were sorry to hear recently of the death of the planner/philosopher Lewis Mumford, who drew a great deal of his inspiration from the other side of the Atlantic. I am sure that everyone here would hope that, even though he is no longer with us, Mumford's writings will continue to stimulate those who encounter them. No one, I am certain, would seriously advocate that we take this opportunity to clear the shelves of the libraries of the world of Mumford's books. Yet, unbelievably, this century began with such a plea from the world of architects and builders. One architect who made this plea was the Italian Futurist Antonio Sant 'Elia, whose undeniably impressive drawings have just been on show in London. Sant 'Elia was so intoxicated by the pace of change and the glamour of the machine that he looked forward to the day when buildings would build their own cities - the epitome of the throw-away society. If then, I shall be proud to be considered old-fashioned, reactionary, antediluvian, anachronistic - you name it!
Why should every generation be required to wipe the slate clean? Can't we be allowed to hold on to things of value from the past? And might we not pass on to our children something of what we have learned? I wouldn't agree with Mumford on everything, but he succinctly summed up my own view of Sant 'Elia's mentality, and that of his followers, when he said: "If you fall in love with a machine there is something wrong with your love life. If you worship a machine there is something wrong with your religion." Can I add to this that I feel that if you find yourself having to live or work in a building that derives its inspiration from a purely mechanical or technological source there is something wrong with your architect? What, after all, is architecture for? Or rather, who is it for? The answer now - as we approach the 21st century - it seems to me to be the same as it has always been. It is for human beings.
I understand all the arguments about being contemporary and about the need to reflect the Spirit of the Age, but what alarms me is that the Age has no spirit. It is all matter, and therefore unable to endure. Our built environment seems to reflect the underlying misconception that we are the only generation on this earth and that we are here to do with it as we please. We could perhaps learn from the Hopi Indians of North America whose every action was dependent on the effect it would have on the seventh unborn generation. The problem we have, it seems to me, is over the metaphor of time. Linear time justifies this modern obsession with change, for its own sake, and is based on nihilism in the sense that the line stretches to an unknown future in one direction and an unknown past in the other. Plato and the sages predominantly talk of time as a circle - or series of circles - so that the illusion of "passing time" is the movement around the periphery of the circle. Wisdom, surely, invites us towards the heart of time which is the non-moving centre of the circle. Perhaps the mounting environmental crisis the world faces will concentrate our minds and restore a degree of sanity to our outlook? Perhaps then we will begin to rediscover that human values, the things of the spirit which are, surely, divinely or mysteriously inspired, are the only ones which endure. They don't need to be re-invented each generation, but they do need to be passed on and nurtured from generation to generation.
Architecture, as Jefferson realised, is the pre-eminent embodiment of a nation's values. It never lies about where our priorities are. Ours may be an age of vast wealth, but what can we see of it? It sometimes seems to me that the richer we get, the uglier we tend to make our surroundings. What is worse, not only do we seem to have mislaid the ability to create beauty, but we also set out to destroy what beauty there is left in the world. The 19th century English writer John Ruskin, whose books on architecture were also highly influential on these shores, would have called this an age not of wealth, but of "illth" - a term he used to describe money which was poured into the production of objects, and the creation of places, which diminished rather than enriched the life of man. There was, for Ruskin, "no wealth but life". He would have approved, I am sure, of your choice of Gold Medallist this year. Indeed Fay Jones' master, Frank Lloyd Wright, derived profound inspiration from Ruskin. Architecture began as a craft, then it became a conscious art - now it seems to be just a science. Surely we need to regain the art and the craft, and then combine them with the science. This is just what Fay Jones is doing in his way - and by so doing he has put our feet back on the ground.
So there is another tradition at work here, among architects such as Fay Jones, which is just as vital and just as 'American' as the classical tradition. Fay Jones' buildings speak of what Ruskin termed "The Poetry of Architecture" - a poetry arising out of buildings in harmony with their natural surroundings. They seem to evoke the amplitude of nature - without damaging Nature. His Thorncroft Chapel was built in the woods from timber carried to the site by hand. Not one of the trees around it was touched. "Good architecture", Fay Jones has said, "has the potential to nourish." The creative process, for him, "attempts to transcend utility and technology and express something of greater human meaning".
Maybe, gradually, we are about to witness the beginnings of another age of architecture. Maybe, like an elephant, it requires a long gestation period, but as in the pachydermal case its longevity may be substantial. The time has surely now arrived when we must learn to work with rather than against Nature; when we can once again make places in which to live and work which are more than "machines", rather places in which we can not only have our being, but enrich our perceptions of what our being really is. It is in Nature that we discover the source of many of our human values.
The really interesting challenge, I believe, lies in whether we can apply the 'timeless' lessons of the past, and a love of natural forms, to the development of office buildings, in a city like New York or London in the 21st century? Why can't we create a cityscape or townscape which engenders a sense of pride and belonging, and which raises our spirits? Why on earth is it considered 'immoral' in architectural circles if the outside of a building does not reflect the function of the inside? Can't we bring our rediscovered sense of Nature's value, and our human scale, to bear upon the design of wholly new towns and cities? It has been said to me that property developers are the 'Medici of the 20th century'. Where then is our Florence? And why is a great city like London seen by our 'Medici' as merely a financial staging post between New York and Tokyo? Where has that spirit of patronage gone which always sought to offer the rarest and most magnificent examples of the architect's gratitude for a city that one could be proud of? The architecture of a country is determined ultimately by the people who pay for it, but it should be sure to celebrate more than just economic values.
There does seem precious little room in our present way of doing things for the timeless values to reappear. We might begin by paying more attention to those we build for. I am not arguing for a return to the Age of Faith which gave us our great cathedrals, but I would hope we might strive for an Age of Reverence - reverence for what gives us life, and for the fragile world in which we live.
In this regard it is perhaps instructive to listen for a moment to the resonant wisdom of Chief Seattle who, in 1854, wrote a letter in response to the US Government's proposal to purchase his tribe's territory in exchange for a regulated life on a reservation. This is what he said:
"Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.
"How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore. Every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from it whatever he needs. The Earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it he moves on."
In our own day it seems that many patrons of commercial buildings are intent on putting their 'signatures' on the skyline. Much of the commercial building of today bears as much relation to architecture as advertising slogans bear to literature. The architects of 'Signature Buildings' ransack history as if it were a wardrobe full of old clothes. Their buildings seldom bear any meaningful relationship to the areas in which they are placed.
I hope that when this latest fashion is played out, a way of building will emerge which recognises the whole picture of human life in our cities. I'm sure that our increasing environmental consciousness will lead us to that. Developers are certainly now having to take the environmental impact of what they do very seriously. One thing which growing environmental awareness is doing is that it is forcing governments and businessmen to think again about the way costs and profits are calculated. For example, the hitherto ignored or hidden costs of pollution and energy waste will have to be taken into account in the future. Can property developers not go one step further and begin to think more of the human and natural costs of development and begin to see this as economic good sense and not just idealism? We are gradually coming to realise that the long-term calculation is better business than the short-term.
One very important example of the challenge that I would like to see faced, and which might interest you, is the development of Paternoster Square in London, next to St Paul's Cathedral. St Paul's Dome is not just a bowler hat perched on top of a business-suited City. It has deep significance for both our nations - containing as it does an Anglo-American shrine to our own capital city. (It's also a good place to get married!) Because of this fact I believe that very great care should be taken over this site. There is a huge challenge here for the Anglo-American combination of Park Tower of New York and Greycoat of London, this project is far more than just the enterprise of two developers. I am pleased to note another example of that architectural 'exchange' between our two nations, now that Park Tower of New York and Greycoat have teamed up in the development of the square. However, this project is far more than just the enterprise of two developers. It should be seen as the joint effort of the people of our two nations to ensure that something of real, enduring value is created next to that great building whose architect - Wren - you are now celebrating through an exhibition in Washington which I saw this afternoon.
We will be assisted in this, I'm sure, by the good sense and vigilance of the planners in the City of London - who are not to be won over by a few Corinthian columns. And in addition, I hope that the developer will see the need for some kind of voluntary urban framework - what has been called a code - which can ensure that whatever buildings are erected on the site they will not compete for attention with each other or with St Paul's, but will create a human-scaled, coherent and living piece of City. Think of those great towns and cities with their memorable cathedral precincts. You all know them. What makes them so special? I would suggest it is the sense of pride and belonging they engender. The civilised values they represent. The design of enclosed space inspired by what is "in the public good", as much as in the commercial interest of the business world. They raise our spirits in a way that is hard to define. Developers, architects, journalists, critics, planners, want to live in such areas. People like me have parents who need to use such places for great ceremonies of state. And the buildings pay humble homage to the noble structure in their midst. So why can't we try to reorganise our values a little and build with this aim in mind? Why, if so many intelligent people spend their holidays in beautiful towns and cities, or in exquisite hill villages in Italy or France, do they persist in dismissing any attempt to do so as an obsession with an irrelevant past - as pastiche; as Disneyland? "What does it profit a man if he gains the world, but loses his own soul?"
Naturally, the developers of this important site have every right to expect a reasonable profit, and a development which is attractive to investors. What I question is whether there is only one way of achieving these ends. I believe that if Paternoster Square is to be both a vindication of tradition, and a model for the next century, a number of 20th century developers' instincts will have to be suspended to make room for real thought: the instinct to create as much undifferentiated floor area as possible - in the interests of 'flexibility'; the instinct to build quickly, cheaply and thinly; the instinct to go up as high as regulations will allow; and the instinct to develop unrestrained by the recognition of human needs. We cannot and should not ignore the possibilities that technology offers us. But we must be masters of our technology, and not its tools. The 'balance' we now seek between ourselves and nature we must also seek in our approach to our cities.
Since the Age of the Enlightenment, man has tended to assume God-like powers over nature and his surroundings, seeking to dominate them. But we don't have to keep on rushing headlong into the 'future' as if the whole of history were a hundred-yard dash. As Mahatma Ghandi said - "There is more to life than going faster". We can permit ourselves to move 'inward' - into tradition - 'outward' - into Nature - and 'upward' - to the heavens, along the way. Poets have always been more aware of this than economists. TS Eliot seems to be to be speaking of a different conception of time when he writes:
"We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploration Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time."
And it is open to us to rediscover this conception of time. Professor Christopher Alexander writes of a "Timeless Way" of building through which, "the order of a building or a town grows directly from the inner nature of the people ? which are in it".
Our cities don't need to grow uncontrollably. We must surely accept some framework of restraint which might restore a healthy balance to our urban environment, and restore equilibrium between buildings and Nature. These matters lead us to some of the central questions of our times. What does it mean to be truly human and what is a fitting way to house this human-ness? How much influence does the design of the built environment actually have on the well-being of human beings; on their sense of belonging and hence on the relationship an individual has with his fellow man - in other words, the community? And what, in the end, should be our relationship with Nature? These are large questions, but it has been said that civilisations are built on the questions they raise. Maybe these questions are a proper foundation upon which we can build. This may be an ambitious hope, but one which I'm sure will not be beyond a distinguished company such as yourselves.
It is, surely, a privilege to have the gifts of design and creativity and to be able to put them at the service of mankind. Believe me when I say that I appreciate how difficult the role of an architect is. As the progenitors of the built environment, the only public art form that affects all of us, you carry so many of our subconscious expectations, on your shoulders. Somewhere along the line the education of architects (and developers!) has abandoned this sensitivity to the basic feelings of the ordinary citizen. But that is another story - and contained in a speech yet to come!"