Architects vs Prince Charles: if the column goes, we go

Architects vs prince charles: if the column goes, we go
Gesture architecture: from left, Neil MacGregor, Prince Charles and Jacob Rothschild at the National Gallery

Today it houses one of London’s best permanent collection displays, but the 1991 Sainsbury Wing extension to the National Gallery in London was almost scuppered when Prince Charles and the other trustees opposed the architect of the new building, Robert Venturi.

The row was over a false Corinthian column that the US architect wanted as a decorative feature on the Trafalgar Square façade of the new extension. The gallery’s trustee minutes for 1986 to 1987, which have just been made public, reveal that Venturi threatened to resign following criticism of the column by Prince Charles and other trustees. Jacob Rothschild, then the chairman, warned his fellow trustees that this threat should be kept confidential and “must not be known outside the building”.

Prince Charles had been appointed a trustee of the National Gallery by the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in January 1986, at a key point in the fierce architectural debate between traditionalists and Modernists in Britain. The prince had already made his personal views very clear in reacting to an earlier proposal for the gallery extension: the scheme of Ahrends, Burton & Koralek (ABK), which included a high-tech tower looming above Trafalgar Square. []