Duke of York notes ‘need for beauty’ in built environment as he becomes patron of Royal Fine Art Commission Trust

Prince Andrew, Duke of York

Source: Duke of York

Prince Andrew

Prince Andrew has signalled his intention to follow elder brother Prince Charles in becoming a high-profile champion for “good design”, in a move likely to prompt trepidation among architects.

The royal, who is eighth in line to the throne, has been revealed as the new patron of the Royal Fine Arts Commission Trust – which advises the government on public amenity and aesthetics and promotes public awareness of high-quality design.

More than three decades after Charles notoriously savaged Ahrends Burton & Koralek’s proposed National Gallery extension as a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend” - in a speech to the RIBA - the Duke of York’s new appointment is unlikely to be a source of cheer in the profession.

Comments from Andrew flagged by the trust to mark his new role appear to reference the government’s creation of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission from which latter-day bête noire Roger Scruton was sacked last month.

“The care shown by the Royal Fine Art Commission had its roots in the work of Prince Albert, my great-great-great-grandfather, who chaired its nineteenth century predecessor,” he said.

“His aesthetic sense, insistence on the highest standards and attention to detail inspire me today. I am proud to become patron of The Royal Fine Art Commission Trust in 2019, as we mark the bicentenary of the birth of Prince Albert, at a time when there is a resurgence of interest in the need for beauty in our environment.”

Roger Scruton

Sacked: Roger Scruton

Andrew’s comments came from the foreword to new book Design Champion: A History of The Royal Fine Art Commission and were written to mark his association with the trust. The book outlines the trust’s role in encouraging good design in the 20th century.

The Royal Fine Art Commission Trust was set up in 1987 to work alongside the second Royal Fine Art Commission which in 1999 was succeeded by Cabe, itself now subsumed into the Design Council.

The trust’s president is Norman Foster and its chair is writer and honorary RIBA fellow Stephen Bayley.

Bayley said the trust was “delighted” to be working with Andrew to “spread awareness” of how well-designed buildings and places benefited everyone. He also insisted that the charity would not shirk from championing aesthetics whatever the economic climate.

“RFACT is not afraid to discuss beauty,” he said. “The more so since there is a growing disparity between the levels of beauty in rich and poor areas> Because aesthetic deprivation cannot be quantified does not mean it does not exist.

James Brokenshire

Regrets: James Brokenshire

“We believe that better design is good for the spirit, the culture and the economy. We will do what we can ensure that is understood, appreciated and acted upon wherever possible.”

>> Also read: Prince Charles ‘impoverished architectural discourse’


Housing secretary James Brokenshire created the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission last year as part of a drive to reduce public opposition to new development in parallel with the government’s target of ramping up the delivery of new homes to 300,000 units a year.

The philosopher Scruton was sacked from his role as commission chair following an interview with the New Statesman magazine which portrayed him as holding antisemitic and Islamophobic views.

Brokenshire subsequently said he regretted the way Scruton had been sacked. Nicholas Boys Smith is interim chair of the commission.

Nicholas Boys Smith

Interim chair: Nicholas Boys Smith