Monday24 July 2017

Carbuncle Cup winner 2012: Ship in a throttle

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Grimshaw’s disastrously conceived restoration of the Cutty Sark is winner of this year’s BD Carbuncle Cup, tragically defiling the very thing it sets out to save

The world has recently been mesmerised by the case of Cecilia Giménez, the devout octogenarian from Borja in Spain, whose attempts to restore a fresco of Christ in her local cathedral went so terribly awry. We would ordinarily label someone who had committed such an act a vandal but, for all the ineptitude that she brought to her task, Giménez’s intentions were clearly sound. Her actions demand to be viewed as a tragedy rather than a crime.

In previous years the Carbuncle Cup has been handed out to buildings that were the product of horrifying greed or negligence, but neither charge could be fairly levelled against the backers of this year’s winner.

The spectacularly wrongheaded “restoration” of the Cutty Sark is a project that the charitable trust that owns the ship — the greatest and last remaining 19th century tea clipper — has pursued doggedly for the past eight years. It appointed an architect with an international reputation, and has defended its vision. It has overcome funding crises and even the loss of part of the ship’s fabric in a fire during the course of conservation work. It has worked with the best of intentions and yet has tragically succeeded in defiling the very thing it set out to save.

The scheme’s myriad failings stem from one calamitous choice: the decision to hoick the 154-year-old clipper close to three metres into the air on canted steel props. The Cutty Sark Trust assures us that this very invasive surgery was crucial to the ship’s long-term conservation. Its former dry-docked situation had caused the hull to distort but now, elevated and protected from the elements within a fully air-conditioned glass enclosure, it will supposedly maintain its shape. Historic ship experts have, however, been all but united in their disdain for the strategy. Even the Cutty Sark’s own former chief engineer, Peter Mason, resigned from the project in 2009 after seeing computer simulations that suggested the act of lifting would put a dangerous level of stress on the fabric. So why do it?

The Cutty Sark by Grimshaw

The new arrangement creates a space for corporate functions.

One reason is surely that the project’s architect, Grimshaw, found it exciting. It is notable that the practice’s Spine House, completed in Oberkülheim in Germany in 2000, features a remarkably similar section: a timber-clad, boat-like vessel is held aloft on steel legs, while high-level glazing to either side admits toplight to the undercroft. The architect clearly found the chance to restage this drama using an actual boat irresistible.

The arrangement also presented a powerful commercial appeal. With the £12 price of admission fresh in their memory, the visitor entering the volume created beneath the ship’s hull can’t help but be struck by how little it contains. A café huddles at one end, a display of figureheads at the other, but a game of five-a-side football could comfortably be staged in between. The opportunity to inspect the underside of the hull is welcome enough, but the room’s real raison d’être is the lucrative corporate function trade. As the trust has acknowledged, a key ambition was always to create “a corporate hospitality venue to rival Tate Modern”.

From street level, the once thrilling lines of the ship’s stern and prow have now been obscured behind the new glass enclosure. Misdirected as the strategy was from the start, the early renderings — undertaken when the original concept architect youmeheshe was still involved — did at least suggest a degree of delicacy. Along the way, however, the promised soap-bubble of frameless, double-curved glass has been abandoned in favour of a gawky paraphrase of the roof of Foster’s British Museum Great Court. The issues of how such a thing might meet the ground or how an entrance might be made in it do not appear to have detained the architect for long.

Having found their way past an expansive retail opportunity, visitors are taken into the ship by way of a hole bashed through the side of the hull, before circulating from deck to deck past an exhibition pitched squarely at eight-year-old enthusiasts for Pirates of the Caribbean. On reaching the top, they are taken across a gangway to a huge and startlingly banal lift, stair and air-conditioning tower from which they can access the undercroft.

While the neatness of the circulation diagram can’t be faulted, one is left bewildered by the idea that this jewel of British maritime history should have been subjected to such dramatic adjustment in order to equip it for an age of mass tourism.

The ship demanded the sensitivity afforded to other great small London museums like the Soane, but instead it has been comprehensively reimagined as a theme-park attraction.

The Cutty Sark Trust’s chairman, Maldwin Drummond, has said that the aim was to present the ship “as though for some unexplained reason the crew had gone ashore” — a worthy goal but one that this tragically ill-conceived project singularly fails to meet.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, London.

Source: Charlton/ODA

Near miss: ArcelorMittal Orbit, London.

The sixth annual Carbuncle Cup winner was selected by a jury composed of BD columnists Hank Dittmar, Gillian Darley and Owen Hatherley, along with executive editor Ellis Woodman.

Grimshaw’s Cutty Sark was unanimously selected over five other distressing contenders:

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, London by Cecil Balmond and Anish Kapoor; the Titanic Museum, Belfast, by CivicArts and Todd Architects; Firepool Lock housing, Taunton, by Andrew Smith Architects; Shard End Library, Birmingham by IDP Partnership; and Mann Island, Liverpool by Broadway Malyan.

Stronger-stomached readers are directed to the video of this year’s shortlist.






Readers' comments (76)

  • NGP should be named and shamed for conceiving such an outlandish, insensitive, over engineered gob-on to the venerable Cutty Sark. Long live the Carbuncle Cup for forcing some uncomfortable architectural navel gazing!

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  • It's only a bit of wrap around glass for goodness sake - a poor suggestion of ocean waves, granted - but to keep it in perspective, its only there to hide what wasn't meant to be seen below the waterline! Orbit for the cup, I say - a sort of Eiffel knot.

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  • It's good to have the Carbuncle price, maybe the jury shouldn't just consist of BD staff but of arch journalists across the UK press. Also there should be more categories: Worst architectural icon, worst piece of daily architecture, high-rise building etc. And not only architect but also developer and maybe builder should be named and shamed.

    What concerns this year’s winner I would follow Alex Henderson's opinion and not support the choice. I have been inside the venue and know Greenwich quite well. The criticism in the article hits almost more the museum culture than the actual architecture. And this is more to do with the state of our society and the time we live in. It is very hard to animate people nowadays to visit museums. Even those, which make it into the museum, haven't got a big attention span and are quite superficial. The exhibition simply reflects this and tries to come up with a commercially viable concept, while not enough supported by the government at all.

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  • BD = The Daily Mail of architectural reviews. Goodbye BD, that was the final straw.

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  • Seymour Alexander

    The pro-Cutty Sark campaigners sound a bit too well organised and like sounding; wonder if their email addresses are as similar. Well done BD - a good choice.

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  • There seem to be a lot of Grimshaw employees around today.

    Can any of those calling for an end to the Carbuncle Cup offer anything in the Cutty Sark job's defence?

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  • tesserae

    Really interesting comments, which shows that some designers are not aware of what they are doing. The entire integrity of the Cutty Sark has been destroyed, and now they want Jo-does-not-like-Museums Blogs to PAY to do a lip service tour of something that is presented as less than the real macoy, it is a total travesity of architecture, which should be given the heaviest leaden Carbuncle cup. I visited the old cutty sark, it still reeked of dare devil voyages fighting storms all with intrinsic beauty of form for the desparate souls who sailing her. The rigid structure which supports the ship is a final strangulation of getting water from stone from the corporates. It would have been preferable to build this from scratch as a fake ship, that at least would have been totally honest. Yes BD did well for once here .

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  • well said tesserae, you articulated my thoughts exactly. It's nice to see that even the big names are subject to ctiticism

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    @ Eckard:

    Yes- not only architect but also developer and maybe builder should be named and shamed.

    And so should the local authority that gave it planning approval. And if the local authority was advised on the case by a Design Review Panel then the members of the DRP should also be named and shamed.

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  • What a crapulous*building...............and I actually sent a cheque to the restoration fund for my favourite ship after the fire.

    I can see now that was a mistake...........bugger!

    (*To seriously over-indulge.....most commonly associated with greedy, fat monstrosities)

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