March 4, 2004
Brush With Royalty
For Calvin professor Lee Hardy an interest in urban design and a connection made on the internet led to a dinner with Prince Charles.
Just another day in the life of a liberal arts professor!
Hardy says the brush with royalty has its roots in the American New Urbanist movement - an attempt on the part of a growing number of architects, urban designers, environmentalists and social justice people to retrieve and creatively apply the principles of traditional urban design.
Although a philosophy professor, Hardy became interested in this design movement a few years ago and since has taught a course at Calvin during the interim on urban design issues. He also spends a fair amount of time interacting with local planners and developers.
Via the internet he made contact with Matthew Hardy, the director of a fledging organization called the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture, and Urbanism (INTBAU).
Says Hardy: "That contact soon developed into a friendship and several transatlantic visits. INTBAU operates out of the Prince's Foundation in east London. In fact, its chief patron is His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. This past December Prince Charles decided to hold a dinner at Clarence House in support of INTBAU. And I found myself on the invite list. Of course, I accepted."
Hardy notes that his trip to London was very generously sponsored by the January Series at Calvin and included a visit to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He arrived in London on Sunday, December 14. The dinner was scheduled for the next evening.
"After unpacking my rented tux and reviewing my notes from Amy Vanderbilt's book on etiquette for formal dinners," he says with a smile, "I tried to get a good night's rest."
The dinner included about 25 guests, including a German princess, a mutual fund manager from Chicago, an heiress from Monaco, an Australian land developer, several Norwegian industrialists, a German architect and Miss Croatia. And of course a U.S. philosophy professor.
Says Hardy with some understatement: "An interesting group."
The dinner itself, says Hardy, was a somewhat surreal experience.
"I was talking to an architect from India," he says, "now practicing in Germany, when Camilla Parker Bowles suddenly appeared before me. We had a nice chat, in which, unfortunately, I spent most of my time trying to explain where Grand Rapids was. She was very down to earth, with a sly sense of humor. I then found myself being organized by some photographers. The next thing I knew I was being introduced to Prince Charles. We talked about several encouraging developments in the urban condition of Grand Rapids, and about the New Urbanist movement in the States generally."
Soon thereafter the dinner began - a three-course meal and three speeches, the last of which was given by the Prince.
It was, Hardy says, a fascinating speech.
"He spoke at length," Hardy recalls, "of his concerns about the materialism and secularity of our age and about a culture that had lost touch with its spiritual center and was now spinning out of control. He referred to what's happening in our built environment as one manifestation of this form of cultural disintegration. He also spoke of his traditional town development in Dorset (Poundbury) as his attempt to build in line with the Golden Rule. He wanted to build a place that he himself would be happy to live in, or, at least, next to."