Traditional vs. Modern: More than just a pretty face

New Urbanism, by definition, is style neutral. Its focus is getting the form — the urbanism — right but then letting the architecture be what it may.

That’s not to suggest, of course, that many New Urbanists don’t have very strong feelings one way or the other. Many do. Particularly as it relates to traditional vs. modern.

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Prince of Wales Argues (Again) for ‘Bottom Up’ Design

Addresses British Architects Who Aren’t Always Big Fans

Twenty-five years after he prodded the Royal Institute of British Architects on the group’s 150th anniversary to consider making a little room for traditional approaches to architecture and planning, HRH The Prince of Wales appeared before the group on another anniversary to clarify the message. Though it’s not likely unrepentant modernists in the group saw it as a reframing of the issue.

Connecting us to our place in the world through an "organic architecture."

Connecting us to our place in the world through an "organic architecture."

“To my mind,” said the Prince, “that earlier speech also addressed a much more fundamental division than that between Classicism and Modernism: namely the one between “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to architecture. Today, I’m sorry to say, there still remains a gulf between those obsessed by forms (and Classicists can be as guilty of this as Modernists, Post-Modernists, or Post-Post-Modernists), and those who believe that communities have a role to play in design and planning.”

Maybe “organic” would be a less controversial way to express his vision than “traditional,” he allowed. “I know that the term ‘organic architecture’ acquired a certain specific meaning in the twentieth century . . , but perhaps it is time to recover its older meaning and use it to describe traditional architecture that emerges from a particular environment or community – an architecture bound to place, not to time. In this way we might defuse the too-easy accusation that such an approach is ‘old-fashioned,’ or not sufficiently attuned to the zeitgeist.”

Since The Prince of Wales has been the most ardent advocate of the New Urbanism in Europe, practitioners in the States will be interested in his current take on this continuing debate about form. See an edited video of his speech before the Royal Institute and a transcript here.

– Ben Brown