Wednesday23 August 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)

  • Sebastian Cuff

    Is it the Cutty "Endurance" stuck in an iceberg or is it the Cutty "Hovercraft"? This is the Carbuncular Question of the Week, and surely one for that most erudite Gherkin-Pineapple debate Chappie Peter Murry. He should duct tape himself to this carbuncle in the manner of a latter day suffragette, and can choose to dress as a polar explorer or hovercraft captain, what-ho? These carbuncles need a bit of old promotion from our public servants.

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  • The movie about the restoration clearly shows that once the initial budget was passed savage cost reduction measures were taken and people were reshuffled. The head of the Cutty Sark foundation seems to of sacrificed a great deal personally to restore the ship.

    The glazing should of been flush with the ground rather than humped up but surely BD should focus on the larger failings this intervention represents.

    At least when the Victorian's were incensitive the did it with bravado rather than middle mindedness. This country is failing because it has rewarded the cost cutters, company production incentifiers,job slashers. Cost analysts, and efficiency consultants in favor of Artisians, Architects, and Engineers and craftsmen.

    Yes, criticism the Architects intention, yes criticize the execution but do so with a fair and even hand otherwise BD you are only supporting the culture that lead to the winning entry.

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  • Congratulations to all brave enough to put their heads above the parapet! They have said all that needs to be said. If our profession cannot recognize when things have gone wrong - did no one in the client and design teams ever ask "what are we doing?" - then perhaps our days ARE numbered.

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  • Anish Kapoor was robbed! He deserved this award

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Interesting to see that a few "name" architects have bestirred themselves and contributed to this thread to say how worthless they find it.

    I wonder what's eating them. Nervous are we, chaps?

    Personally I think it's great that we now have this forum in which it's possible to counteract the endless positive PR spin we get most of the time in the architecture mags.

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  • It's Grim for sure.

    A slice of dill pickle to Foster's gherkin. Inhabiting the Cutty Sark's dry dock and experiencing the boat from beneath could have made for a fantastic experience but something clearly went awry in the execution. The structure is far too heavy handed and the scheme already looks dated. A missed opportunity.

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  • There should be a gallow built on the shore at the front of the ship. On the gallow should be hung the names of all the individuals associated with this debacle. At the top should be those in charge of the trust, and those in the architectural offices who had a hand in it. These people should be accountable for what they've done.

    The design is so bad that even the Queen, who's had a lifetime's practise of holding back her feelings in public, upon her visit couldn't help but reveal a grimace at what she was seeing on her tour.

    The abundance of people attacking the journalism in their comments is just distraction from the main issue. It's not about journalism, it's about the terrible renovation that we're now stuck with. If you don't agree, tell us why by addressing the issues of what the builders have actually done - and leave the journalists out, it's nothing to do with them.

    I'm a bit miffed at the Orbit getting away scott-free. This was an equally dire construction at all levels, starting right at the top with Boris Johnson (questionable whether BD politics had a hand in this entry not winning in order to protect his name) all the way through to the funding which allowed for advertising to circumnavigate olympic rules about this, to the coincidental fact the winning design was by a friend of the funder to the way its corporate vibe hijacked the olympic spirit whilst hideously promoted by a crazed grinning Boris. The fact the design itself was atrocious was the final insult.

    The Orbit deserved at least to be joint winner. Maybe the fact its in a poor part of East London doesn't matter so much to the increasingly right-wing BD as much as the precious colonial-era Cutty Sark?

    A joint winner would have been the more truthful result and reflected a broader understanding of the architectural issues affecting the wider populace of modern multicultural Britain, not just it's more narrow traditional past.

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  • Hi Valentine,
    We do strongly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion about the Carbuncle Cup. But I do want to spring to the defence of our judges a little bit on this one: the decision was really nothing to do with Boris Johnson! I don't think he would need BD to protect his name - he's perfectly good at demonstrating his own competencies/incompetencies to the public without any further assistance.
    Anna Winston
    Online Editor

  • This award is so disappointing. It’s like a Heat or Grazia magazine circling fat on other peoples bodies. In this time when the architectural profession is in real and immediate crisis, this kind of red-top sensationalism shows just how much the format of BD allows the staff to indulge a type of journalism far removed from the rigor required by other architectural media.

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  • It's very interesting how , when St.George Wharf won this award in the past, everyone went 'tee hee'........it's only Broadway Malyan so what does it matter.

    Now when some individuals have the temerity to critisise a building by Grimshaw's, somehow it's betrayal of our profession and a gift to our critics.

    How dare they!

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  • What other Architecutural/Construction publication openly criticises buildings in this way? Are we to highlight terrible architecture by observing a lack of championing certain buildings within the architectural press? From some of the posts on here I would assume some Architects would prefer their carbuncle to go inconspicuously unnoticed, but poor architecture which this is should be named and shamed. Without criticism how can Carbuncles like this be avoided in the future?

    The Carbuncle Cup clearly has a place in Architecture, the fact that so many people have written defensive comments proves this, as presumably intended by its creators this award it will always divide opinion.

    Many people seem to be constantly criticising BD's journalism, if you don't like it no one is forcing you to read it. Agreed that for example you can't read just one newspaper, a spread of newspapers needs to be read to form a balanced and informed opinion about current affairs, the same applies to the Architectural press, just like Architecture where there are good and bad buildings, the same applies to the Architectural press, everything is judged against its peers, and the Cutty Sark should now be judged a failure amongst its own

    As for asking for BD to always write positive articles about Architecture, that is plainly ridiculous, as with the world not everything is positive and things need to be highlighted as with the Cutty Sark to learn from mistakes and improve in the future, clearly in this case budget did not allow what was shown in the original 3Dimensional renders, the SS Great Britain in Bristol has a glass roof, executed much more successfully than the Cutty Sarks.


    it's not as it Grimshaw had to invent anything new here, if indeed the roof was even required?? The supports which are apparently needed to preserve the structural integrity of the CUtty Sark could still have been used to hold the ship up creating an amazing public space underneath, allowing those who want to experience the Cutty Sark without paying the entrance fee to do so, and still have fee paying visitors entering the ship above (presumably at a lesser cost than the current fee due to the building being cheaper!). There was know need for a museum experience, the Cutty Sark was a experience in it's own right, I can only say I am glad to have visited it before Grimshaw intervened!

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