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Royals & Architecture

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

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Throughout England’s different epochs, the construction & design of her buildings has undergone a labyrinth of prominent shifts through social & political reflection.

The 6 main factors that have influenced, and continue to influence, architectural design in the United Kingdom are...

1. Budget

2. Culture

3. Climate

4. Religion

5. Geography

6. Technology

In the latter years, codes & regulations, along with social & community concerns, have all played their part in providing a further dynamic to the decision-making process of construction. As we say goodbye to 2022, and in memory of Queen Elizabeth II, we look at how the establishment has influenced architecture, and review some of the buildings.

The record-breaking legacy of Her Majesty, our late Queen Elizabeth II, is evident in the field of British architecture. While she was less vocal than others before her, about architecture, we'll come on to her son shortly, she was present for the opening of many famous British & Commonwealth buildings and cut her fair share of red ribbons, opening numerous public buildings across the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, in her role as head of state.

The Queen opened modernist buildings designed by Basil Spence and Frederick Gibberd, brutalist structures by Powell & Moya and Denys Lasdun, and high-tech creations by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, as well as more recent contemporary structures by Herzog & de Meuron and WilkinsonEyre. These include:

(1955) - The Queen's Building, Heathrow, England, (Frederick Gibberd)

(1962) - The Commonwealth Institute, London, England, (RMJM)

(1962) - Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, England, (Basil Spence)

(1963) - New Zealand House, London, England, (RMJM)

(1968) - Euston station, London, (William Robert Headley & Ray Moorcroft)

(1973) - Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, (Jørn Utzon)

(1976) - Museum of London, London, England, (Powell & Moya)

(1976) - Royal National Theatre, London, England, (Denys Lasdun)

(1977) - The Beehive, Wellington, New Zealand, (Basil Spence)

(1982) - Barbican Centre, London, (Chamberlin, Powell & Bon)

(1986)- Lloyd’s building, London, (Richard Rogers)

(1988) - Parliament House, Australia, (Mitchell Giurgola & Thorp Architects)

(1991) - Stansted Airport, Stansted, (Foster + Partners)

(1998)- Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, (Benson + Forsyth)

(1998) - British Library, London, England, (Colin St John Wilson & MJ Long)

(2000) - Tate Modern, London, England, (Herzog & de Meuron)

(2000) - Great Court at the British Museum, London (Foster + Partners)

(2002) - Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Newcastle, England, (Wilkinson Eyre)

(2004) - Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh, Scotland, (EMBT & RMJM)

(2006) - Senedd Cymru, Cardiff, Wales, by RSHP

Whilst our late Queen was heavily involved in the inaugurations of many UK establishments, King Charles III is an avid fan of architecture; a fact that came to light in 1984 when the then-Prince added his views to Ahrends Burton Koralek’s “high-tech” plans for an extension to the National Gallery. The royal described the architectural designs as “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” King Charles’ comments effectively condemned the proposal alongside a suggestion from Mies van der Rohe for a 19-storey tower in the heart of the Square Mile, which Charles described as a “giant glass stump, better suited to downtown Chicago than the City of London.”

Under his previous title of Prince of Wales, Britain's new monarch exerted significant influence on the built environment through campaigning and designing his own traditional towns. As a vocal critic of modernist architecture, he scuppered schemes by architectural heavyweights including Richard Rogers (three times), and Ludvig Mies van der Rohe, and prevented modernist additions from being built at the National Gallery and Royal Opera House.

As Rogers was later quoted as saying: "Charles knows little about architecture. He sees this debate as a battle of the styles, which is against the run of history because architecture evolves and moves, mirroring society."

He was equally vocal in his support for traditional architecture, with articles, speeches, a TV documentary and even a book all dedicated to promoting its cause. How times have now changed. With society waking up to sustainability, home-grown building skills, nearly forgotten in the annals of time, and a focus on community infrastructure, it seems our latest King has been drumming a tune we’re now turning our heads to.

Charles has also put his money where his mouth was and backed the development of several traditional towns, with Poundbury being the most notable.

Planned by Leon Krier, with a central square designed by Quinlan Terry, Poundbury is an extension to the town of Dorchester for 6,000 people built on Duchy of Cornwall lands, which Charles controlled.

The classical aesthetic has been described by some as a theme park model village; however, the development has proved popular with residents and is beginning to win over its critics. In a 2016 piece on the town, Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright wrote "it's getting a lot of things right".

Following the principles laid out at Poundbury, an addition to the Cornish town of Newquay called Nansledan is now being developed. Charles also recently announced a "landscape-led" new town in Faversham, Kent.

The key thread connecting all of Charles' architectural interventions has remained a desire to promote traditional architecture over modern designs, which he has done in numerous ways.

Along with his speeches, he translated his ideals into a BBC documentary called HRH Prince Of Wales: A Vision of Britain, which was later published as a book. Charles also published his 10 principles for architecture in the magazine Architecture Review in 2014. His vocal interventions contributed to a feeling of animosity between classical and modern architects, which has been described as a style war. Charles alluded to this in a 2009 speech given at RIBA to mark the institution's 175th anniversary.

"There is something I've been itching to say about the last time I addressed your institute, in 1984; and that is that I am sorry if I somehow left the faintest impression that I wished to kick-start some kind of 'style war', between classicists and modernists; or that I somehow wanted to drag the world back to the 18th century," he said. "All I asked for was room to be given to traditional approaches to architecture and urbanism."

Looking further back in time at some of the most cherished buildings our previous prominent Royal figures have been involved with…

King William I (Reign: 1066-1087)

Legacy: Tower of London, Windsor Castle, New Forest, 20+ castles, Lincoln, Durham, Chichester & Ely Cathedrals

To your average autocratic monarch, dictator, tyrant, or property developer architecture serves as a useful physical manifestation of symbolic power. However, William the Conqueror was a calculating tactician and understood that architecture could also serve a clear strategic function: defence.

After overcoming the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, one of the king’s first policy decisions was to ensure that no other invader could do the same to him. So, he set out building an impregnable phalanx of castles across the land and in so doing hard-wired the concept of fortification into the DNA of English architecture for the next 500 years.

Ironically, in the centuries that followed, much of the militaristic apparatus of this strategy, such as turrets, battlements, drawbridges, and moats, became inextricably linked with an idyllic, highly romanticised view of medieval England whose mythological allure enthralled Victorian culture and still manages to captivate historians and Hollywood producers alike to this day.

In the frenzy of church and cathedral building the king initiated to cement his power among his newly appointed bishops, the king also introduced Romanesque architecture into England from the continent. Its English variant, the Norman style, gave life to some of Europe’s most spectacular ecclesiastical architecture and laid the foundations for the glories of the Gothic age that followed.

Finally, for relaxation the king liked hunting so ordered the planting of extensive woodland in Hampshire. Unfortunately for him two of his sons were killed there. Fortunately for us the New Forest is the largest remaining tract of unenclosed pastureland in crowded south-east England.

The Battle of Hastings has become a part of English folklore. William the Conqueror’s contribution to the fact that England has never been successfully invaded since 1066, and his transformation of our physical, as well as our political, landscape deserve a place there too.

In 1078, on the orders of William the Conqueror, the construction of the White Tower–a symbol of Norman dominance–was begun. Though its defining whitewash is all but gone, this building is today considered the “hall keep” of the Tower of London complex. The King’s College Chapel (Henry VI) was begun in 1446, witnessed the Wars of the Roses, and was finished in 1515 by Henry VIII. This classic example of late Gothic architecture also marks the beginning of a transitional period in building styles.

The 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries:

Under the rule of the Tudor monarchy, England found peace and prosperity. Architecture saw the final stages of Medieval design, and the development of more refined architecture, such as the depressed arch and fan vaulting. The King’s College Chapel, of course, is famous for its Tudor Arch. There are many examples of Tudor and Elizabethan architecture throughout Great Britain, including Hampton Court Palace and Hardwick Hall.

In the 1600’s, Palladianism, (based loosely on a philosophy centred around a 16th Century Italian architect named Andreas Palladio), inspired such English architects as Inigo Jones, who designed the Queen’s House in Greenwich for the wife of James I. Of the Classical styles, Palladian architecture is the most unremarkable, though it was easily ahead of its time.

In the 18th Century, England witnessed a new era and new styles when King George I and the Whigs took the throne. An example of implemented change may be found in Chiswick House, which may be considered Lord Burlington’s attempt to challenge the popularity of Baroque styles.

Buckingham Palace: Originally purchased by her husband, King George III in 1761, Queen Charlotte may have considered Buckingham House a comfortable place to raise her 15 children. Remodelling of what was then called “the Queen’s House” began in 1762. The estate has undergone several changes since then: in the 1820’s, George IV demolished and replaced the north and south wings, and added the Marble Arch; after her marriage to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria added nurseries in the 1840’s; the famous forecourt where the “Changing of the Guard” commences, as well as many gates and railings, was added around 1911, and in 1913, the Palace received a facelift to remove damage caused by soot.