Updated Monday 26th November 2001

Was Prince Charles' model village more than a crusty throwback?

Poundbury Creative commons image Icon I Like under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license

Leon Krier et al


Construction Date:
1988 (planning begins)
1993 (building begins, ongoing)

Dorchester, England

A Birthday Surprise

By 1984, the Modern Movement was at a low ebb. Years of recession and a subsequent shrinking of the state after five years of Margaret Thatcher's administrations meant that the government was no longer able to sponsor vast Modernist housing schemes as it had done in the three decades after World War Two.

Economic decline had also contributed to mass unemployment and social problems throughout the country. Although residents in every type of housing suffered, the unlovely monoliths of the Modern Movement seemed somehow complicit in the decay of Britain's urban fabric.

It was at this time that Prince Charles made his now famous intervention into the story of British Modernism.

At the 150th birthday party for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Prince welcomed the public backlash against Modernism and launched a scathing attack on the architectural profession, accusing it of being out-of-touch, arrogant, and responsible for destroying community life in Britain's cities. "For far too long, it seems to me", the Prince complained "some planners and architects have consistently ignored the feelings and wishes of the mass of ordinary people in this country…Consequently, a large number of us have developed a feeling that architects tend to design houses for the approval of fellow architects and critics, not for tenants."

He went on "Why can't we have those curves and arches that express feeling in design? What is wrong with them? Why has everything got to be vertical, straight, unbending, only at right angles- and functional?"

The Prince warned his horrified Modernist hosts; "at last people are beginning to see that it is possible, and important in human terms, to respect old buildings, street plans and traditional scales and at the same time not to feel guilty about a preference for facades, ornaments, and soft materials."

The Past Will Be Planned

Modernists were appalled that such a prominent figure was openly attacking not just their work, but the entire Modern Movement, in which they had been schooled and which had been responsible, to a greater or lesser extent, for much of Britain's post-war landscape. But the Prince's speech was directly responsible for blocking the proposed Modernist extension to London's National Gallery ("a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend").

The speech also marked a crusade by Charles for a return to a more traditional approach to urban planning. The result of which is Poundbury, a village on part of the Prince's Duchy of Cornwall estate in Dorset.

In 1988, Prince Charles commissioned Leon Krier, a noted town planner with traditional sensibilities, to head a project to build 2,400 homes over 400 acres on the western fringe of Dorchester. Building started in 1993.

Although Modernist principles of planning and design are nowhere to be seen in Poundbury, that doesn't mean that nothing is planned. The streets are deliberately narrow and serpentine, so as to slow traffic flow through the village. Parking is provided behind houses in order to keep cars from clogging up the streets at night, and mews and gravelly lanes have been carefully positioned to create the feeling of a traditional English village.

The Prince's Solution

The housing is a blend of social and private, and commercial and residential properties rub shoulders in the narrow roads. Functional zoning a la Corbusier is not a feature. The buildings themselves are constructed according to the Poundbury Building Code, which insists on local stone as the preferred material and a respect for the English vernacular style.

Although derided by the architectural profession as 400 acres of pastiche, and as a profoundly backward-looking reaction to Modernism, Poundbury continues to grow. Much effort has been spent on creating a sense of community spirit within its turreted walls.

Just as Denys Lasdun and Peter and Alison Smithson fretted over the effect their buildings were having on the social fabric, and worried how to rectify this, so Prince Charles and his allies have grappled with a similar problem at Poundbury. Only their solution has not been a modification of Modernism, but rather a rejection of it.


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Ronan Point Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

History & The Arts 

Ronan Point

A gas explosion in Newham changed the way towers blocks would be built.

The Voice of the Eyewitness Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

History & The Arts 

The Voice of the Eyewitness

Oral history is a vital resource that complements and sometimes corrects the evidence of written and visual records.

Death on the tracks: A 19th century train crash Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: LBSCR article icon

History & The Arts 

Death on the tracks: A 19th century train crash

An 1853 inquest takes evidence about a fatal train crash at New Cross.

The Suffolk Horse Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

The Suffolk Horse

It was once the mainstay of farmwork - learn more about the Suffolk horse

Learning about sex, a shilling a time: Aristotle's Masterpiece Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: US National Library of Medicine article icon

History & The Arts 

Learning about sex, a shilling a time: Aristotle's Masterpiece

Not written by that Aristotle, the Masterpiece nevertheless found a huge market desperate for sex education in 18th Century Britain and America.

State of decay Creative commons image Icon Draco2008 under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

State of decay

Neglected buildings can give fascinating insights into the past.

'The wrong side of the tracks': The impact of the railways on Victorian townscapes Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library article icon

History & The Arts 

'The wrong side of the tracks': The impact of the railways on Victorian townscapes

When we think of the introduction of the railways we might think of it bringing prosperity to the people, but it also brought unsanitary conditions and isolation to those who lived on 'the other side of the tracks'. Explore more...

Total War - Parliament Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

Total War - Parliament

Inspired by Cromwell, and in the face of possible defeat, a new approach was needed by Parliament

Colchester Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 


When the Romans invaded, Colchester was the most important and powerful Iron Age settlement in Britain.The Romans made it their capital for the first few years of the occupation.