When Charles III’s Prince’s Institute of Architecture studied downtown Richmond in 1996 (Guest Commentary)

 

princeofwalesmonroewardsketch

Students’ rendering of the southeast corner of West Franklin and Adams streets in Monroe Ward, with suggested complementary additions to the Second Baptist Church building.

London will be pumped on May 6 when world leaders, grandees and mere mortals enter Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Charles III and Camilla. Britain puts on a show like none other with its official pageantry, royal comings and goings, historic places and gorgeous landscapes. Tourists deliver some $3.7 billion annually to the national economy. And for a nation stumbling along post-Brexit and COVID, the coronation promises a booster-like shot in the arm.

Of course, all eyes will be on the new king, especially in the coming months whether or not he’ll express – or suppress – his famously fierce opinions about architecture and urban design. Precious few folks are born knowing exactly what vocation awaits them, but Charles waited 72 years before reporting to work for his preordained job. We may assume that the outspoken monarch won’t squelch his environmental interests for corgis and horses, fascinations that kept his mother above the fray. “It’ll be nice to have a monarch who is thoughtful,” a member of his majesty’s staff reportedly said. “It’s something we haven’t had for a while.”

Prince CharlesBiltmorecropped

Charles III on a visit to the United States in 1996.

Charles’ finest accomplishment – aside from marrying Diana and producing an heir and a spare – is considered to be the establishment in 1976 of a private foundation, the Prince’s Trust (now the Prince’s Foundation). It still addresses minorities’ issues, disadvantaged youth, public health and the environment. Its success is attributed to sponsorship and funding for highly focused and localized programs or institutions. The foundation’s early image also was enhanced by the patronage of Diana, princess of Wales (Charles’ first wife during the years they cohabited, from 1980 to 1989). It was a ready-made platform for her considerable compassion; Prime Minister Tony Blair dubbed her “The People’s Princess.”

In contrast to public embrace of the Prince’s Foundation, Charles’ outspoken ideas concerning architecture and urban design often have been controversial. In 1984 he created a brouhaha when he told a group of British architects how he really felt about plans for a proposed wing to the venerable National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. He called it a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” The design was nixed and its esteemed British architect, Richard Rogers, dismissed. The project was awarded to a Philadelphia architecture firm.

In addition to the bully pulpit, Charles also has put his concepts and opinions into action. In 1993 he undertook the development of a mixed-use community, Poundbury, in Cornwall in southwestern England. Americans were involved: city planner Andres Duany set forth the ground rules in a 52-page design book. Richmond-born Jaquelin Robertson, an internationally known architect, collaborated with Robert A.M. Stern, architect of the Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige Jr. Federal Courthouse Building and the almost completed Virginia General Assembly Building on East Broad Street, as consultants for Poundbury (the town is set for completion in 2026).

In 1992 Charles had founded an independent school of architecture to teach and instill designs based on the classical examples of ancient Greece and Rome. The Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture is still funded by the foundation. Annually, 20 to 25 well-vetted graduate students from around the world come to England for architectural studies, group foreign travel and design assignments.

For two weeks in August 1996 the Prince of Wales’ institute landed in downtown Richmond (that’s Richmond-Upon-James, not Richmond-Upon-Thames). While here, the students made field studies, engaged with locals, became familiar with the downtown’s geography and buildings, and devised an urban design plan for Monroe Ward.

jeffersonrearview

The Institute depicted how a double row arcade of shops and eateries might accentuate the West Main Street entrance of the Jefferson Hotel in the distance.

The summer session was initiated by Historic Richmond, a not-for-profit preservation organization, and sponsored by the Woman’s Club. Operation and design studios were established in the club’s sumptuous Bolling Haxall House at 211 E. Franklin St. The students and instructors lodged at the nearby Linden Row Inn. Richmonders involved in the project were architect Fred Cox, architectural historian Calder Loth, Catherine Whitten of the Woman’s Club, Fran Nimitz Zehmer, and her husband, the late Jack Zehmer, then executive director of Historic Richmond.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Prince Charles did not visit RVA during the session. Periodically during the stay the group took road trips. On the institute’s first weekend in Richmond, it visited the Biltmore estate near Asheville, North Carolina. Charles flew over to join them there. The Charlotte Observer surely disappointed many Tar Heels with the headline, “Charles’ Asheville visit will be strictly private.” Later weekend excursions included Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, Charlottesville and Washington, D.C.

Back in Richmond from their atelier on East Franklin Street, the international students studied Monroe Ward. The district is defined by Broad, Belvidere and Fifth streets and the Downtown Expressway.  Their focus was through Charles’ lens: “to restore humane values in architecture both philosophically and practically,” and to practice the techniques of “community architecture” through a wide range of building arts and crafts.

The ward was (and continues to be) characterized by two distinct features. One, expanses of asphalt surface parking lots. The second, handsome and often historical structures. These include The Jefferson Hotel, Linden Row, the former Second Baptist Church, Virginia Commonwealth University’s engineering and business schools as well as its Brandcenter, the Commonwealth Club, the Woman’s Club, and a necklace of impressive 19th-century residences along Franklin Street.

What did the institute recommend for the somewhat ragged neighborhood?

– Provide a “wide variety of residential structures, including free standing residences, row houses, small apartment buildings, and accommodations above the ground floor shops and offices. Nothing higher than six stories. This would achieve “critical mass.”

– Create a number of small parks and public squares: these would “accentuate the civic role of existing buildings and serve recreational and commemorative functions where appropriate.

– The adaptive reuse of civic buildings in the area should be carried out, with extensions or additions made to the structures, if necessary.

– Vehicular and pedestrian circulation can be enhanced by encouraging commuters to use the existing expressway, and introducing two-way streets. These things would promote commercial and residential activities.

As for parking, the institute suggested a combination of on-street, intra-block and garage parking, thus allowing the development of vacant lots used for surface parking.

  1. gracemonroe

    Institute students suggested that the SE corner of West Grace and Monroe be redeveloped with low-rise structures. A 16-story apartment building is now under construction on the site.

The Prince’s institute also spawned additional classes in classical architecture and created a number of trans-Atlantic friendships and sponsorships.

If King Charles III should visit Richmond 27 years after his institute lent its ideas to Monroe Ward’s development, what would he find? A decidedly mixed bag. VCU has built sizable, well-coordinated and contextual in-fill buildings in a unique “Collegiate Baroque” style along Belvidere Street. The university has injected a number of attractive brick-faced parking decks along West Grace Street. There are a handful of new medium-rise apartment complexes along Canal Street. The Mews at Foushee has completed its first six of some 20 row houses. The Richmond Public Library has landscaped a shady green park on its Main Street side. And the former Grace Hospital at Grace and Monroe streets has been converted into residences.

But yikes, what’s that across the street?

An unforgivingly greedy behemoth of a structure – 16 stories with 176 apartment units – has been topped out recently. Ouch. And elsewhere in Monroe Ward there are too many surface parking lots. Ugh. Perhaps the City Council’s recent easing of parking requirements will see these being developed.

So if not “Off with their heads,” Charles III’s command might be: “Back to the drawing boards.”

 

princeofwalesmonroewardsketch

Students’ rendering of the southeast corner of West Franklin and Adams streets in Monroe Ward, with suggested complementary additions to the Second Baptist Church building.

London will be pumped on May 6 when world leaders, grandees and mere mortals enter Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Charles III and Camilla. Britain puts on a show like none other with its official pageantry, royal comings and goings, historic places and gorgeous landscapes. Tourists deliver some $3.7 billion annually to the national economy. And for a nation stumbling along post-Brexit and COVID, the coronation promises a booster-like shot in the arm.

Of course, all eyes will be on the new king, especially in the coming months whether or not he’ll express – or suppress – his famously fierce opinions about architecture and urban design. Precious few folks are born knowing exactly what vocation awaits them, but Charles waited 72 years before reporting to work for his preordained job. We may assume that the outspoken monarch won’t squelch his environmental interests for corgis and horses, fascinations that kept his mother above the fray. “It’ll be nice to have a monarch who is thoughtful,” a member of his majesty’s staff reportedly said. “It’s something we haven’t had for a while.”

Prince CharlesBiltmorecropped

Charles III on a visit to the United States in 1996.

Charles’ finest accomplishment – aside from marrying Diana and producing an heir and a spare – is considered to be the establishment in 1976 of a private foundation, the Prince’s Trust (now the Prince’s Foundation). It still addresses minorities’ issues, disadvantaged youth, public health and the environment. Its success is attributed to sponsorship and funding for highly focused and localized programs or institutions. The foundation’s early image also was enhanced by the patronage of Diana, princess of Wales (Charles’ first wife during the years they cohabited, from 1980 to 1989). It was a ready-made platform for her considerable compassion; Prime Minister Tony Blair dubbed her “The People’s Princess.”

In contrast to public embrace of the Prince’s Foundation, Charles’ outspoken ideas concerning architecture and urban design often have been controversial. In 1984 he created a brouhaha when he told a group of British architects how he really felt about plans for a proposed wing to the venerable National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. He called it a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” The design was nixed and its esteemed British architect, Richard Rogers, dismissed. The project was awarded to a Philadelphia architecture firm.

In addition to the bully pulpit, Charles also has put his concepts and opinions into action. In 1993 he undertook the development of a mixed-use community, Poundbury, in Cornwall in southwestern England. Americans were involved: city planner Andres Duany set forth the ground rules in a 52-page design book. Richmond-born Jaquelin Robertson, an internationally known architect, collaborated with Robert A.M. Stern, architect of the Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige Jr. Federal Courthouse Building and the almost completed Virginia General Assembly Building on East Broad Street, as consultants for Poundbury (the town is set for completion in 2026).

In 1992 Charles had founded an independent school of architecture to teach and instill designs based on the classical examples of ancient Greece and Rome. The Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture is still funded by the foundation. Annually, 20 to 25 well-vetted graduate students from around the world come to England for architectural studies, group foreign travel and design assignments.

For two weeks in August 1996 the Prince of Wales’ institute landed in downtown Richmond (that’s Richmond-Upon-James, not Richmond-Upon-Thames). While here, the students made field studies, engaged with locals, became familiar with the downtown’s geography and buildings, and devised an urban design plan for Monroe Ward.

jeffersonrearview

The Institute depicted how a double row arcade of shops and eateries might accentuate the West Main Street entrance of the Jefferson Hotel in the distance.

The summer session was initiated by Historic Richmond, a not-for-profit preservation organization, and sponsored by the Woman’s Club. Operation and design studios were established in the club’s sumptuous Bolling Haxall House at 211 E. Franklin St. The students and instructors lodged at the nearby Linden Row Inn. Richmonders involved in the project were architect Fred Cox, architectural historian Calder Loth, Catherine Whitten of the Woman’s Club, Fran Nimitz Zehmer, and her husband, the late Jack Zehmer, then executive director of Historic Richmond.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Prince Charles did not visit RVA during the session. Periodically during the stay the group took road trips. On the institute’s first weekend in Richmond, it visited the Biltmore estate near Asheville, North Carolina. Charles flew over to join them there. The Charlotte Observer surely disappointed many Tar Heels with the headline, “Charles’ Asheville visit will be strictly private.” Later weekend excursions included Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, Charlottesville and Washington, D.C.

Back in Richmond from their atelier on East Franklin Street, the international students studied Monroe Ward. The district is defined by Broad, Belvidere and Fifth streets and the Downtown Expressway.  Their focus was through Charles’ lens: “to restore humane values in architecture both philosophically and practically,” and to practice the techniques of “community architecture” through a wide range of building arts and crafts.

The ward was (and continues to be) characterized by two distinct features. One, expanses of asphalt surface parking lots. The second, handsome and often historical structures. These include The Jefferson Hotel, Linden Row, the former Second Baptist Church, Virginia Commonwealth University’s engineering and business schools as well as its Brandcenter, the Commonwealth Club, the Woman’s Club, and a necklace of impressive 19th-century residences along Franklin Street.

What did the institute recommend for the somewhat ragged neighborhood?

– Provide a “wide variety of residential structures, including free standing residences, row houses, small apartment buildings, and accommodations above the ground floor shops and offices. Nothing higher than six stories. This would achieve “critical mass.”

– Create a number of small parks and public squares: these would “accentuate the civic role of existing buildings and serve recreational and commemorative functions where appropriate.

– The adaptive reuse of civic buildings in the area should be carried out, with extensions or additions made to the structures, if necessary.

– Vehicular and pedestrian circulation can be enhanced by encouraging commuters to use the existing expressway, and introducing two-way streets. These things would promote commercial and residential activities.

As for parking, the institute suggested a combination of on-street, intra-block and garage parking, thus allowing the development of vacant lots used for surface parking.

  1. gracemonroe

    Institute students suggested that the SE corner of West Grace and Monroe be redeveloped with low-rise structures. A 16-story apartment building is now under construction on the site.

The Prince’s institute also spawned additional classes in classical architecture and created a number of trans-Atlantic friendships and sponsorships.

If King Charles III should visit Richmond 27 years after his institute lent its ideas to Monroe Ward’s development, what would he find? A decidedly mixed bag. VCU has built sizable, well-coordinated and contextual in-fill buildings in a unique “Collegiate Baroque” style along Belvidere Street. The university has injected a number of attractive brick-faced parking decks along West Grace Street. There are a handful of new medium-rise apartment complexes along Canal Street. The Mews at Foushee has completed its first six of some 20 row houses. The Richmond Public Library has landscaped a shady green park on its Main Street side. And the former Grace Hospital at Grace and Monroe streets has been converted into residences.

But yikes, what’s that across the street?

An unforgivingly greedy behemoth of a structure – 16 stories with 176 apartment units – has been topped out recently. Ouch. And elsewhere in Monroe Ward there are too many surface parking lots. Ugh. Perhaps the City Council’s recent easing of parking requirements will see these being developed.

So if not “Off with their heads,” Charles III’s command might be: “Back to the drawing boards.”

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Mark Guncheon
Mark Guncheon
1 year ago

Ed Slipek’s articles are always informative, well-written, and filled with facts and stories about Richmond. Looking forward to more of them.

Mark Olinger
Mark Olinger
1 year ago

Would be wonderful to see the entire document…which seems to exist but never online where we could all take a peek. If it is, please post the link!

Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Olinger

Agreed! – I just tried to do a cursory search on the Library of Virginia – ouch. They need some serious AI in their search…..

Frank Smith
Frank Smith
1 year ago

Thank you, Ed.