Modern architecture has had its share of critics slapping its stark, spare face around. Even Frank Lloyd Wright, a modernist himself and big on individualism, pooh-poohed Le Corbusier's avant-garde Villa Savoye, calling it a "box on stilts."

Of course, Wright’s line of work entitled him to judge a building as harshly as he wants. What about King Charles III’s entitlements? Do his many privileges extend to judging modern architecture? He certainly talks like they do.

The crown speaks

In 1998, then prince Charles presented a 75-minute documentary on BBC TV outlining what he saw as heresies in modern architecture.

This included the National Theatre, which he deemed “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London.”

Charles said a lot of stuff like that. Now, The Guardian wonders: “Might Charles have been right...could a king with strong opinions about the built environment turn out to be an unexpected boon?”

The words of 19th-century British art critic John Ruskin come to mind. He called Neo-Classical architecture (a.k.a. Post-Modernism, Charles’ style of choice) "unnatural, unfruitful, unenjoyable and impious, utterly devoid of all life, virtue, honorableness, or power of doing good."

I quote Ruskin to make clear the argument between traditional and modern architecture and ask how silly Charles’ preference is.

Very, if you think a building should be patterned after a Roman bath. But then again, how silly was it in the first place to have lordly pillars define a bathhouse? Maybe the better way to decide between traditional and modern buildings is to look past their function and look at what state of mind they conveyed. Those in Old Rome stood for authority, order and dignity.

Stately columns evoke a sense of solidity and strength. So, there’s that.

Style isn’t everything

But wait, design aside, there’s something else to be considered. Unlike other arts, architecture is unavoidable, obliged to get along with its neighbors. It needs to look like it belongs and reach into the roots of the city for its heights and materials.

The consummate good neighbor, right? So, there’s that.

Postmodernism, favored by Charles (that’s the old style but applied to new buildings), rejects modernism's code of form-follows-function. Instead, it makes unashamed use of classical decoration.

But raising the roof on modernism lets buildings fall between the cracks which can make the spirit soar. I’m thinking of the Lever House, a glass tower erected in the 1950s on Park Avenue in New York. It was the street's first glasswork, and the open plaza at its base was the street's first pause in an otherwise canyon highland. Glass didn't go with the existing row of stone fronts, but it was liberating to look at.

In the end, the proportion of a building may take precedence over style.

The concept of good proportion comes from the ancient Greek mathematician Eudoxos, who went around to his friends with a long stick, asking them to pick the most pleasing point. He found that a majority picked the same point. Later, the Greek geometer Pythagoras found it was the basis for human proportions.

Modern buildings, as anti-classical and unsentimental as they are, can be as poetic and packed with emotional messages as postmodernism, provided that the ratio between mass and height is balanced.

I’ll let Le Corbusier have the last word on the subject of style. He said styles are to architecture what a feather is to a woman's hat. It is sometimes pretty, though not always, and never anything more.