The modernist style challenges the hereditary privilege on which Charles relies. It evokes socialist sensibilities by making the relationships of production visible – there are no vestibules or hidden staircases for servants, as there were in Victorian architecture; or gargoyles concealing pipes. No wonder he’s not welcome in Poundbury.
Journalist Owen Hatherley argued in ‘Militant modernism‘ which Charles “abolishes[es] the future in the simulation of a fantastic past”. True, he seems to want to recreate a traditional Terran society, disregarding the fact that for most people that meant uninhabitable housing, starvation, and avoidable death. And that’s largely because Charles never had to go through any of those things.
While Elizabeth II’s reign was littered with stories of her living a “simple lifejust like an “ordinary person”, Poundbury suggests that Charles’s idea of simplicity is quite different.
Queen Mother’s Square in the center of Poundbury is particularly telling. It is dominated by royal references. Kings Point House, the tallest building, houses a Waitrose, the premium British supermarket brand. It is next to the luxury apartments of the Royal Pavilion.
Strathmore House – fancier apartments named after the Queen Mother’s father, the Earl of Strathmore – is the most visually imposing building in the square. It’s based on Buckingham Palace, a rather odd look for rural Dorset. There’s also The Duchess of Cornwall Inn, modeled after the Ritz hotel in London, and finally a statue of the Queen Mother, which doubles as a mini roundabout.
Spatial references to past and present royals are commonplace in road or building names, but their significance becomes more evident in the context of Poundbury. The position of royalty at the epicenter of Poundbury can be interpreted as Charles viewing royalty as being at the epicenter of Britain – when in reality they are politically marginal.
In his 1989 book ‘A vision of Brittany‘, Charles details his anti-modernist architectural position and raises the question of the hierarchy of buildings in terms of height and embellishment. He used anti-vernacular language to position religion and the state at the center of society: “We lift up to heaven what is of value to us: the emblems of faith, enlightenment or government.
He approves of churches and historic buildings such as the Tower of London dominating the skyline, but not high-rise social housing, office buildings or corporate skyscrapers. This positions secular, aristocratic or royal figures as class dominators. As the center of Poundbury, Queen Mother’s Square does much the same.
A monarchy of contradictions
Charles’ ideology reflects high neo-feudal Toryism and traditionalist conservatism. It is concerned with maintaining a landed society by prioritizing social hierarchies, as well as championing environmental concerns, agrarianism, ruralism, localism, and strong community ties.
Yet simultaneously the Duchy of Cornwall was portrayed in a TV documentary commissioned by Buckingham Palace as a multi-million pound “business empire”. Charles might espouse anti-modernism, but he seems happy that the Duchy is reaping financial rewards.
In many ways, Poundbury is a metaphor for monarchy. It may be a traditional, feudal, imperialist institution, but it has deep ties to modern corporate power. It centers its own power on coronations, jubilees and marriages while minimizing its influence on politics.
Considering Charles built this contradiction in the form of a toy town, it looks like the monarchy will continue in much the same way as before – just with a more vocal figure at its helm.