Beyond Buildings


Poetic and Prosaic Princes: Robert Ivy and Prince Charles

Submit A Comment | View Comments

Prince Charles's New House. Courtesy: Building Design.


Is there hope for the AIA? If the speech that its new CEO, Robert Ivy, gave last week to its D.C. Chapter is any indication, there is. As reported in The Dirt, ironically not the AIA’s, but the American Society of Landscape Architects’ site, Ivy said that architects are already expanding their offerings beyond traditional building design to “supplemental services.” Eventually, architects may even become “creative consultants” to a wide range of industries, particularly given the drop-off in building work with the economic downturn. Business schools around the country are now promoting the benefits of “design-thinking” and architects may be uniquely positioned to “intuit, analyze, and solve problems in different ways.”


Exactly. That sounds like an amazing departure from the standard professional stance, which is that architecture is all about designing buildings to serve people and make money, and that professional organizations such as the AIA are all about protecting the title, getting a better insurance deal, and in general keeping architecture into a safe, albeit besieged, fortress. What encourages me even more is that Ivy, after bowing low to the Gods of Green and Retro-Urbanism, says that architecture must “poetize human experience.” Perhaps that is not the most elegant phrase, but the notion that design does not only speak the prose of problem solving, but can also aspire to the poetry of intensifying, clarifying, and making more beautiful our everyday rituals and needs, is crucial if architecture is going to have a role in our society.


The comments from some of the professionals following the post are predictably curmudgeonly, but I do hope that Mr. Ivy has the courage and conviction to follow through on his statements.


The contrast between Bob Ivy’s stance and the announcement that Prince Charles, the world’s other leading spokesman for architecture, has finally revealed his Prince’s House could not be starker. Saying that he wants to “green up our traditional, British properties,” the Prince showed off a square block with a column absurdly placed in a shallow portico over the entrance. It is essentially a British McMansion masquerading as a Schinkelesque villa. No doubt crammed with solar panels, built out of recycled materials, and otherwise doing everything it can to escape its destiny of using up natural resources by being a stand-alone object serving the dying nuclear family, it represents architecture’s failures to address environmental and social issues in a fundamental manner, let alone turn them into poetry.


Tina Brown, on her new soapbox,, proposes that Lady Di, had she survived, “would no longer have found Charles’s causes tiresome. Rather, she would have empathized …” What a frightening thought. I can only hope the same does not hold true for her sons. I wish the best to our new King of Architecture, and pray for the future King of England’s conversion.




Be the first to add a comment to this post.

Comment on this Post

Post your comment below. If you wish, enter a username and password though they are not required. Please read our Content Guidelines before posting.


Enter the code shown in the image

Username is optional


Enter a password if you want a username


About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.