Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest updates about Their Royal Highnesses including news, events and photos straight to your inbox

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess
of Cornwall

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Prince Harry

Open

Speeches

A speech by HRH THe Prince of Wales at the Inauguration of The Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture, St James's Palace, London

Published on 30th January 1992

I am enormously grateful to you all for coming here this evening to a reception to announce the creation of my Institute of Architecture. Some of you may think it rather dramatic, even foolhardy, on my part to attempt something quite so ambitious. Indeed, I wake up sweating in the middle of the night sometimes with exactly the same thought! But I have thought long and hard before taking this step. So it seems to me that, rather than bore you with a lot of detail, which is all set out in this brochure, I should just say that my Institute will open here in London in October 1992. It will be a place for teaching, research and the exchange of ideas.

I will try to explain why I have concluded that this the right step to take.

Although it may sound pretentious to say so, I remember when I was much younger feeling very disturbed by the trends of the time which seemed to be directed, like a well-orchestrated artillery barrage, at destroying the traditional foundations on which so many of our human values had been based for thousands of years. I remember reading that God was dead. I remember familiar buildings vanishing, bombsites in London being redeveloped in a way that was totally alien to the urban fabric of the city, the uncompromising brutality of which continues to depress me. I remember the centres of our old towns being ripped apart in the interests of what was called "progress" and being replaced by the uncompromising starkness of purely functional buildings. I remember vast housing estates mushrooming around our cities with no sensitivity whatsoever to the landscape. I remember hedgerows being uprooted by the mile; wet places and wild areas being drained and "improved" (albeit because everyone was told we needed such places in order to become self-sufficient in food) and everywhere this urgent, almost missionary, zeal to sweep away all the traditional bric a brac which had outlived its usefulness.

All the professions seemed to encourage it. The 'experts' and scientists encouraged it. The result, of course, was the inevitable one - that the 'baby' went out with the bathwater. My thought is now to try and find a way of resuscitating the baby - but without refilling the bath with dirty water!

As I grew older I wondered why it was that, in my heart of hearts, I had minded so much about the changes that were taking place (like many other people, I suspect, I had not dared to express my true feelings for fear of being thought ignorant). I then learnt about Descartes and scientific rationalism. I discovered that this led to a mechanistic view of the Universe and of Man's place in it and I began to realise what lay at the root of this feverish revolution. In the simplest of terms, we were being persuaded to see the cosmos as a gigantic machine which could be examined, experimented with and manipulated by Man for his own exclusive use. Everything was explainable by science and anything that couldn't be explained simply didn't exist. In this scenario Man himself becomes a mere mechanical object and any notion of a metaphysical reality disappears altogether. The sense of humanity's uniqueness as a microcosm of the whole Universe is thrown out of the window, to be replaced by an egocentric world view which denies that all-encompassing sense of the sacred and stresses the purely rational.

I have often wondered why it is that I was not seduced by this conveniently logical, but utterly soulless philosophical approach. The pressures to yield to this concept of life have been and still are, to a certain extent, enormous. At best you are described as eccentric; at worst as a dotty crank. The temptation to conform can be very powerful. So why haven't I? What is it that produces this overwhelming feeling - for it is only a feeling - in my heart that the whole Universe is based on the most profound principles which in themselves represent a giant paradox, but which for me inspire a continual sense of awe and reverence? I confess that I don't know what it is, except that it comes from my heart and envelops my whole being. It is an awareness of something beyond the confines of Self and it becomes more evident when in the presence of great beauty.

Many people will doubtless recognise such inexplicable feelings as are induced by the proportions of a building; that extraordinary sense of harmony which such proportions can engender. Many people will feel the same when they see a landscape sculpted and fashioned over thousands of years by the hands of men whose customs, passed down orally from one generation to another, and whose reverence for the natural world, for God's place in it, led them to create a harmonious synergy with their surroundings rather than imposing themselves on it. Clearly, the fact that they had no machines with which to dominate their environment must have played a large part in the whole equation, and I can understand how quickly the industrial revolution, when it comes to each country, helps to eliminate that innocent and unquestioning sense of the sacred in Man. And yet, despite all the dramatic changes that have been wrought by science and technology, and all the remarkable benefits they have indeed brought us, there remains deep in the soul (dare I mention that word?!) of mankind a persistent and unconscious anxiety that something is missing - some vital ingredient that makes life truly worth living; that provides that inexplicable sense of harmony and beauty to a world which is in danger of sacrificing these elements on the altar of an outmoded, unbalanced and irreverent ideology. We are told that our contemporary built environment must reflect the "spirit of the age".

But what concerns me most of all is that we are succeeding in creating an "age without spirit". What then, is spirit, and how can its essence be restored to an appropriate place in the totality of our experience? I am no philosopher, but I can try to explain what I feel spirit to be. It is that sense, that overwhelming experience of awareness of a one-ness with the Natural World, and beyond that, with the creative force that we all call God which lies at the central point of all. It is, above all, an "experience". It defies conscious thought. It steals upon you and floods your whole being despite your best logical intentions. It lies deep in the heart of mankind as if some primaeval memory. It is both 'pagan' and Christian, and in this sense is surely the fundamental expression of what we call religion.

As Wordsworth put it so succinctly, there is,

... in the mind of man, A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of thought And rolls through all things.

The ancients seemed in some way to understand the subtle blend of matter and spirit in the Universe. Around this the ancient Egyptians formulated the mathematical and geometric principles that were inherited in turn by the Greeks. The whole of European culture is based on our Gr¾co-Roman heritage, at the root of which lay what many consider to be these profound and, indeed 'sacred' principles. The question of how to restore the element of 'spirit', as contained in such timeless principles, to its rightful position in the overall balance that I believe needs to be achieved in the education of an architect is a difficult one. But I believe that there is a growing desire on the part of many people to search this missing part of their experience, which has been so obviously derided and abandoned in the education of architects. In many ways architecture surely provides the most effective means by which to translate both the overwhelming, unconscious experience of the heart and the conscious principles of the mind into a 'concrete' way of enclosing space.

In this belief and very much taking my courage in both hands, I have spent the last three or four years working with a team of remarkable people until we reached the point of being able to launch this new Institute of Architecture this evening. What I would like to be taught and explored and studied in my Institute, is the fact that the architecture that nourishes the spirit is not so much a traditional architecture, which resembles or apes the past, but rather a particular kind of architecture whose forms, plans, materials, are based on human feeling.

Recent research in the field of architecture has begun to identify the particular forms or types of organisation which are able to create such 'architecture of the heart'. It is perhaps surprising in our age of pluralism, where everyone imagines themselves entitled to any view whatever about anything, to discover that the kinds of buildings that tend to appeal to the human heart, and which make us feel at home, are a very specific range of buildings; very particular in style, organisation and physical character. These are, in fact, the buildings which we have always loved. They include, of course, all the great traditional architectures of the past - enormously varied as these are.

But they also include new forms of architecture, based on new materials, new ways of building, new forms of technology. This is where I hope that my Institute might become a kind of crucible where the architecture of the 21st century can be forged.

So my hope, and my intention, is that the students who come to this new Institute of Architecture will be taught these underlying facts about any human architecture - that they will then be able to play an imaginative role in society; that they will be able to set in motion new processes of construction, new forms of management and new ways of building our towns, which then provide for the 21st century what all the great architects of the past have provided for their respective eras.

It is also my heartfelt hope that the students will be able to learn specific things - largely forgotten today - which will set the architecture of the future on a more realist basis, less controlled by images and fantasy as unfortunately the architecture of the last 50 years has often been. Instead I hope it can be based on real principles and on factual knowledge about the nature of space, which unites objective knowledge with profound human feeling.

My aim in wanting to establish an Institute of Architecture is, above all, to respond to what I believe is a more widely held desire on the part of some architecture students to be provided with a course of study which, in part, reflects the more profound and indefinable aspects of life and therefore which re-introduces the delicate thread of wisdom that connects us with the great tapestry woven by our forebears.

I would like the students to appreciate that there are certain timeless values which we can learn from the past, and apply to the future. I would like the students to learn that in order to be able to design with sensitivity and an appropriate sense of reverence for the natural surroundings, they first need to learn humility and how to submerge the inevitable egocentric tendencies that we all experience. They also need to learn to observe Nature which, when all is said and done, provides us with a bright star by which to navigate. Again, this is not to say that technology should be decried - rather that the Institute should encourage experiment in order to find better, more sensitive and imaginative ways of using modern materials to create buildings that reflect a hierarchy of scale.

I should perhaps stress that the aim will be to produce practitioners, not just theoreticians. The Institute's curricular programmes will contain all the rigour consistent with the technical and economic demands of such a complex profession. But these will be placed within the wider context of our history and our culture and, indeed, other people's cultures and geographical locations.

In this sense I have already asked Brian Hanson and Keith Critchlow, Director of Studies and Director of Research respectively, to work towards establishing outposts of the Institute's activities in a variety of areas - in Britain, in Europe, and beyond.

Above all, however, the overriding aim of my Institute is to bring people together, both to help heal the wounding fragmentation of building disciplines characteristic of our century, and to break down the demoralising barrier between the values of professional experts and those shared by the great body of people affected by the development of various kinds.

So, at the end of their course, I would like the students to leave my Institute with a feeling that they have experienced something rather special in their lives; that a new dimension of life has been revealed to them which has struck a chord in their hearts that will never stop resonating. I hope this will enable them to have the true vision to see that although styles may vary, proportion is in itself a reflection of the order inherent in the Universe. They will need to discover these great truths, I believe, in order themselves to provide the beacons of civilised values in a world increasingly in need of real meaning and of that most precious of commodities - hope.