What’s so great about timeless?

Whoever succeeds in redeveloping the Chelsea Barracks site will probably produce a small book to mark its completion. This will include an account of the site’s history, illustrated with maps and engravings, rather furry black-and-white photographs and a selection of press cuttings. There will be timelines charting the schemes produced, the matings and divorces within successive development teams, the arrival of the Prince of Wales, and the point at which one particular architectural vision triumphed. All the competing designs will be documented, helping to write the strengths of the completed scheme into history. Just such a book was produced at the end of the Paternoster Square development, next to St Paul’s Cathedral.1

The redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks site shows signs of becoming another Paternoster. There are the competing urban and architectural visions and the serpentine planning politics, pumped up by vast amounts of money. The chronicler of the early stage of the process may have a more challenging task than usual, however, because this time the Prince of Wales’s intervention has been judged ‘unexpected and unwelcome’ by Mr Justice Vos in the High Court.

As part of the Clarence House programme of opposition to Richard Rogers’s site plan, the Prince had written to the prime minister of Qatar with his personal response to the scheme. The existence of the letter was leaked, as it was bound or even intended to be. Extracts have been read in court as part of the dispute between the co-developers over the withdrawal of the planning application, and the letter has recently been published in full.2 The strategies of all concerned are now being made public, but this letter deserves detailed consideration. Not because it so strangely identifies Rogers’s scheme as ‘Brutalist’. Nor even for the propriety of the intervention, the underlinings, the emotion and the shameless plugging of the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment and Quinlan Terry’s alternative plans for the site. The letter needs examination because of the assumptions about cities embedded within it…


1. Nicola Jackson, The Story of Paternoster: A New Square for London, Wordsearch, London, 2003.

2. www.telegraph.co.uk/telegraph/multimedia/archive/01665/letter_1665159a.gif; accessed 25 June2010.

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