RIBA Trust Annual Lecture 2009

Response to HRH The Prince of Wales from Sunand Prasad, RIBA President

Thank you, Your Royal Highness for giving the 2009 RIBA Annual Lecture on the Institute’s 175th Anniversary. The ability of human beings to see the same phenomena in different ways has been an abiding fascination of philosophers through the ages and also keeps the RIBA’s dispute resolution department busy. And to find an honest and non-violent way through such differences is one of human beings finest qualities.

I am glad to say there is common ground, above all long term, despite our significant differences. I won’t dwell too long on them but allow me to make two points that we can perhaps take up in our later discussion with the Prince’s Foundation:

Firstly I do not see a monolithic architectural philosophy called Modernism and there are large numbers of beautiful 20th and 21st century buildings inspired by new structural and material possibilities that exhibit and celebrate the subtle order found in nature. Look at some recent RIBA Stirling Prize winners and runners up, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, The Downland Gridshell, Barajas Airport, German Literature Museum and Accordia. Equally there are many ugly ones and even more ugly places – we can agree on that but we may have different remedies. If there is a great experiment it is with our entire political economy and culture of which the built environment is an expression.

Secondly the critique of some of the arid and destructive aspects of an earlier strand of modern architecture was made by different and newer strands in this modern architecture. Some of the keenest criticisms arose in schools of architecture, which nurture an independence of thought and often exhibit strong scepticism about contemporary practice. I am proud to say schools of architecture embrace a huge diversity of approaches to the subject, which is why the President’s Medals exhibition of work from schools round the world is always so absorbing – ranging as it has recently from an analysis of perspective in Piranesi’s work to the sustainable development of fishing villages.

In summary our difference is whether modern architecture is the problem or the solution. By the way I have not the remotest chance of winning the Pritzker Prize now I know they live in beautiful classical houses. I have even less because I live in a modern home with brick, steel and polycarb.

When we first met with Hank Dittmar of the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment to discuss tonight’s event, it quickly became apparent that we both were keen to extend the conversation beyond tonight and, as with other organisations working on the challenge of sustainability, to engage in constructive discussions to identify the solutions necessary to achieve that goal. We therefore welcome your proposal that during 2010 the RIBA Trust and the Prince’s Foundation will jointly organise a series of four seminars on aspects of sustainability and climate change.

Some of you will also know that the RIBA and other representatives of the construction industries are planning to be in Copenhagen this autumn for COP15, the key intergovernmental meeting on climate change, and I am really pleased to hear that the Prince’s Foundation, together with other member organisation of the Prince’s Trust, will also be there to add to the pressure for a real and meaningful international climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol.

Ladies and Gentlemen, before the lecture you had an opportunity to see short extracts from a few of the previous lecturers in our ‘Architecture and Climate Change’ series. This has included architects, environmentalists, policy-makers and philosophers – a range of expertise which reinforces the point that we need to look at the issue from many different viewpoints in order to see the way ahead. As I briefly mentioned, this series of talks over the last two years has been made possible by Gleeds and we are most grateful to them for their continuing commitment.

It is almost time to applaud but please stay seated while I accompany our honoured guests out of the hall and then please proceed upstairs to the Florence Hall for the reception as quick as possible. Your Royal Highness, thank you very much.


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