In a shock turn of events, it was revealed on Friday that Prince Charles has been successful in his bid to stop the Qataris from constructing modernist apartment blocks on the site of the old Chelsea Barracks, which is across the street from my flat. As you can imagine my flatmate, who has been intimately involved with the negotiations between our building’s residents and the Qataris, is none too pleased that the concessions he’s worked for two years to get have now gone up in smoke.
So what did it take for Qatari Diar (a real estate firm owned by the Qatari royal family) to abandon their planned development, designed by one of the worlds most prominent architects for a site that they purchased in the most expensive land transaction in British history? From the looks of it, it was a little princely camaraderie. The decision follows communication between Prince Charles and the Emir of Qatar in which the Prince of Wales asked him to stop the modernist development and instead start over with a more classic, traditional design.
So is this really the result of some royal influence, or is the royal contact angle just an over dramatisation by the British press? Right now it’s a bit unclear. As I wrote about in my previous post on this topic, the letter my flatmate received from the prince last month seemed to indicate that he probably didn’t want to see his royal name too associated with this mess - an effort that, judging from the headlines on Friday, clearly failed. One can easily see why he wanted to avoid it though. The heir apparent has been the target of considerable anger following this news, particularly from architects who say he should stop his “meddling”.
However the fact is that Charles was not really the driving force behind the opposition to this plan. The resistance was led by a proactive and energetic residents association (one that my building wasn’t a part of). It was that group, the Chelsea Barracks Action Group, that commissioned the ‘alternative’ Chelsea Barracks blueprint by traditional architect Quinlan Terry that much of the media has presented as being the brainchild of the prince (the one on the right in the above photo, compared to the planned design on the left). The prince, in fact, was really just peripherally involved in this whole dispute, from the looks of it. This was really a victory for CBAG chairwoman Georgie Thorburn, who has pursued this issue with almost messianic zeal over the past year.
But as peripheral as his involvement may have been, was Prince Charles the factor that tipped this in CBAG’s favour in the end? We’ll probably never know, as the intimate chats between royalty aren’t usually public knowledge, especially in Arabia! But what is for certain now is that the Chelsea Barracks site is back to the drawing board, and will continue to lie as a giant pit in the middle of posh Chelsea, with its two abandoned high-rise barrack dorms sticking up like rotting teeth. Not so great for the neighborhood’s aesthetic, but hey, at least I’m not going to be woken up by construction equipment in the morning any time soon!
Incidentally I’m in Amsterdam this week for work, on a press tour of some environmental projects throughout Holland. I’ll try to write a little bit about some of the things I’ve seen later in the week.