In a 2,000-word essay in the latest issue of The Architectural Review, Prince Charles has come up with 10 “important geometric principles” for urban masterplanning. He says we need to “reconnect with traditional approaches” and said “It is time to take a more mature view” as he lays out his vision for the future of architecture and planning.

“All I am suggesting is that the new alone is not enough. We have to be mindful of the long-term consequences of what we construct in the public realm and, in its design, reclaim our humanity and our connection with nature, both of which, because of the corporate rather than human way in which our urban spaces have been designed, have come under increasing threat.”

“To counter this, I believe we have to revisit the learning that for so long has been embedded in traditional approaches to design, simply because they are so rooted in our own connection with nature’s patterns and processes. As we face so many critical challenges in the years ahead, these approaches are crying out to be brought back to the forefront of contemporary practice.”

His 10 principles are:

  1. Developments must respect the land. They should not be intrusive; they should be designed to fit within the landscape they occupy.
  2. Architecture is a language. We have to abide by the grammatical ground rules, otherwise dissonance and confusion abound. This is why a building code can be so valuable.
  3. Scale is also key. Not only should buildings relate to human proportions, they should correspond to the scale of the other buildings and elements around them. Too many of our towns have been spoiled by casually placed, oversized buildings of little distinction that carry no civic meaning.
  4. Harmony – the playing together of all parts. The look of each building should be in tune with its neighbours, which does not mean creating uniformity. Richness comes from diversity, as Nature demonstrates, but there must be coherence, which is often achieved by attention to details like the style of door cases, balconies, cornices and railings.
  5. The creation of well-designed enclosures.Rather than clusters of separate houses set at jagged angles, spaces that are bounded and enclosed by buildings are not only more visually satisfying, they encourage walking and feel safer.
  6. Materials also matter. In the UK, as elsewhere, we have become dependent upon bland, standardised building materials. There is much too much concrete, plastic cladding, aluminium, glass and steel employed, which lends a place no distinctive character. For buildings to look as if they belong, we need to draw on local building materials and regional traditional styles.
  7. Signs, lights and utilities. They can be easily overused. We should also bury as many wires as possible and limit signage. A lesson learned from Poundbury is that it is possible to rid the street of nearly all road signs by using ‘events’ like a bend, square or tree every 60-80 metres, which cause drivers to slow down naturally.
  8. The pedestrian must be at the centre of the design process. Streets must be reclaimed from the car.
  9. Density. Space is at a premium, but we do not have to resort to high-rise tower blocks which alienate and isolate. I believe there are far more communal benefits from terraces and the mansion block. You only have to consider the charm and beauty of a place like Kensington and Chelsea in London to see what I mean. It is often forgotten that this borough is the most densely populated one in London.
  10. Flexibility. Rigid, conventional planning and rules of road engineering render all the above instantly null and void, but I have found it is possible to build flexibility into schemes and I am pleased to say that many of the innovations we have tried out in the past 20 years are now reflected in national engineering guidance, such as The Manual For Streets.

There’s definitely some worthwhile ideas in there.

h/t Dezeen

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  1. Only one lesson to be learned from Poundbury: don’t build it. A privileged assemblage of atrociously scaled, fake nineteenth century houses set in a suburbanised landscape of circuitous roads and acres of parking. One of the ugliest, stupidist examples of planning I’ve had the misfortune of seeing, only worsted by its crap architecture. And this hypocritical ponce has the effrontery to declare that ‘the pedestrian must be at the centre of the design process’? It’s true, but he certainly doesn’t practice what he preaches.

    1. Hi Chris – Calling Prince Charles a ‘hypocritical ponce’ adds nothing to the discussion and is a totally unjustified call.

      When I was in London in 1989 I bought Prince Charles’ newly published book “A Vision of Britain – A Personal View of Architecture’ which set out with expanded comment his 10 principles and which I note from the post above are now marginally, but only marginally different from the 1989 version. In 1990 he was named Author of the Year in the British Book Awards, the book was in the best seller lists for 3 or 4 years and in 1990 had already been reprinted four times. There was also a television series which would be a good picture theatre fund raiser for Transport Blog if it were possible to obtain the programme

      1. Further to the comment above – You have to remember that in order to solve the housing shortage in the post war period, Britain built many grey, out of scale, brutalist, Le Corbusier inspired, housing projects which inflicted much damage on the country’s landscape and townscape.
        Prince Charles’ famous speech to the Royal Institute of British Architects re the proposed extension to the National Gallery as being ” like a carbuncle on the face of an old friend” led to a rethink and a better outcome for the National Gallery. Of course this incensed the elitist modernists of the day, but the reality was that they needed to do much better. A lot of junk had been served up.
        I have visited Poundbury only once and a good many years ago now. It held much promise then. Whether this has been realised I am not in a position to say but readers of the blog should be assured that the principles are entirely rational and anybody interested in a satisfying architectural environment could do worse than reading Prince Charles’ book

      2. jacques – You don’t have to be a qualified architect to set out your principles of urban design but some worldly experience and a passionate interest in the subject will be necessary. Charles certainly has both these.
        We always need to beware of experts. In the transport field NZ’s supposed experts are are the professionals; the NZTA and until recently they seem unaware of some long established trends. In my view, they have together with their political masters, have stuffed up the urban environment with excessive motorways and other poor decisions.
        You may not like Charles for other reasons but in many aspects of the architectural field his views are worthy of note.

  2. I completely agree with almost all of these principles. It’s time we saw more developments taking into consideration their surrounding environments; both natural and manmade. While uniqueness and character are important, they shouldn’t come at the expense of cohesion and harmony.

  3. i wonder what qualifies prince Charles to commit ‘principles’ of urban design. His great experience as an architect? past contributions to the field of design? I wonder what actual architect with actual experience of designing actual architecture would take this rambling seriously.

    1. Now, I’d prefer it if Charles didn’t have any more influence in society than some random commoner like me, but what he’s written here is not intrinsically stupid. He seems to be drawing upon a few strains in architectural and urban design theory, including Christopher Alexander’s idea of “pattern languages” in building and critiques of car-oriented street design.

      That being said, the example of Poundbury does indicate that Charles’ ideas about town planning may fall short in practice. I quite liked economist Ed Glaeser’s critique of the town, which pointed out that it’s environmental failures (high car mode share, high household energy use, long commuting distances) arose as a result of the fact that Charles “seems to long for a simpler, more agrarian world” in which people can be relied upon to act like medieval peasants.

      So yeah, while I think the principles are useful, the man himself leaves much to be desired.

  4. I totally agree with his statement that “just because something is new” doesnt automaticakly make it better. We have had a whole lot of new buildings go in around Graham St in the CBD and what an ugly streetscape they make!

  5. I find his principles confused and incoherent when he speaks of both the need to respect an area’s “scale”, look and feel with any new construction and the need for density. Arguments to maintain a neighborhood’s “scale” are frequently used against any attempt at increasing density, because it’s true that any increase in density automatically means that you’re building something at odds with the existing built area.

    Furthermore, I note that nowhere in his principles does he mention anything about affordability, and indeed, his entire perspective comes from a mentality common among many European architects and urbanists that sees cities more as museums or art galleries than as living and working places that need to evolve to respond to evolving demand from the people who live there. In a way, it’s just like the modernists like Le Corbusier who thought the human element was an annoyance and problem to good architecture…. just that Charles likes cities more from the POV of a pedestrian rather than a planner looking down onto to a model or from the top of an high-rise.

    It’s not surprising then that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, that is a direct consequence of such thinking.

    I do not think that anyone’s personal, subjective aesthetics should trump factors like being able to provide people with what they want. Pragmatism must trump sentiment in urbanism.

    1. Simval – well said. (I’m a big fan of your blog by the way). A few of Charles’ points make sense but they are just well known principles of urban design. Yes good design and human scale are important; but a fear of anything new and a desire to enforce a subjective aesthetic are just as big a threat to the city as bad design.

  6. Those all sound like good ideas but many sound quite expensive to implement. He didn’t list “affordability” as a design principle. Especially (1) and (6) seem like luxuries you might only adopt at the expense of affordability.

  7. Reference item 6 – Materials – In NZ we are being ripped off by the monopolistic Hardware/Timber merchants. Material costs are way higher than they should be. It wouldn’t be so bad if those growing or felling the logs were paid reasonably however there does seem tobe an unreasonable costs involved.

    1. Ah yes, the ever rising material costs of house building, the Cinderella to those big, noisy, ugly sisters of “Land Supply” and “Local Government Regulations”.

      We already let the ugly sisters try the slipper on and it didn’t fit, so maybe, its time to ask Cinderella for a try?

      Case in point:Mike Greer from Mike Greer Homes, in Christchurch is in The Press paper (again) today over his plans to enable lower-cost supplies:

      As “New Zealand’s biggest home builder” he should know what he is talking about, and he has some good comments on the cost of building houses.
      Their sheer size gives them massive leverage against their suppliers – your average Joe Blow builder can’t – he has to take the price his local Placemakers of Mitre10 sells it to him for.

      Some comments:

      “An early 2014 What’s On construction report listed the company as the cheapest of New Zealand’s 10 main house builders, with its average home costing under $1300 a square metre.
      Which doesn’t necessarily mean they build homes cheaper. Partly it is because they build cheaper homes.”

      To create affordable, higher density homes they build them smaller but don’t cut corners, Greer says.

      Other practices are employing their own project managers to oversee up to 12 homes each, and paying subcontractors within seven days to keep hold of the good ones.

      “The whole system in New Zealand, from subdivision and consent right through to builders’ merchant channels is set up around one-off bespoke housing. It’s too expensive.”

      The systems he advocates of building in scale using panelised factory construction is common in North America, Europe, and Japan.
      [He is in the process of setting up a Joint venture with Christchurch company Spanbuild to do exactly this in the South Island now].

      This last one is also interesting:

      He would like to see development levies and reserve costs come down. It’s the same cost for any section size.
      “That’s not encouraging people like me to build affordable housing. I’m fighting that. But it’s not a battle that I’m winning.”

      Which means that higher density (more houses on less land) developments will pay the same contribution levy per section than a large McMansion type development with the same number of homes – that used way more land.

      Seems that the rules need a tidy up here, to enforce a more equitable outcome – a house with 2 bedroom, and one or no car garaging doesn’t consume the same level of all council resources as the 5 bedrooms, 2 car garage one next door – just on the basis of how many can use the property at once (which is what the development contributions supposedly cover – the marginal cost of providing all its occupants with services].

      You might say though that rates will take care of the difference – but thats an indirect way to achieve the outcome, and in any case, the developer never pays the rates so don’t care what the place (or rates) is worth once they sell it and their margin booked.

      Maybe the Developer contributions should be set at “$X per section plus $Y per 100M2 of section size”, or the equivalent of 10 years worth of the property rates due on the completed houses value – whichever is the higher.
      Developer would pay the council the higher amount aslevy at time of subdivision. As each home is finished and its code of compliance certificate issued (so it can be lived in/sold), the developer will then receive back any overpaid developer contributions back at that point (offsetting any underruns on contributions for earlier sales first)..

      This would encourage smaller lot developments (or more intensive use of the land). Rather than encouraging million dollar McMansions as it does now.

  8. +1 Prince Chuck!

    If Auckland were to follow these suggestions we would have a far more attractive city.

    Planners? Architects? “Independent” Commissioners? Anyone contributing to the problem in agreement?

  9. I don’t know anything about the so-called always brilliant Douglas Murphy but he interprets Charles’ writings to put words into Charles’ mouth that he has certainly never said. Murphy would appear to be an apologist for the elitist architectural profession of the “we know best variety – even better than our clients”.

    Elitism is the first of the seven architectural sins!

      1. Greg – I hadn’t come across Hubris as a first sin but it may well be up there. My reference is Robert Adam for Building magazine. My personal real turn-off is anybody who uses the word ‘pastiche’

  10. IF NZ applied the “bury power/telephone lines” like most of the UK has, there would be significantly less power-cuts. I’m always shocked to read about them from the UK town I now live in where there are none whatsoever (none in London, Birmingham, Leeds etc either).

    They are a blight on the landscape and on basic kiwi living standards.

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