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Tuesday29 July 2014

Two years in our Carbuncle

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How does it feel when the building you’ve moved into wins the Carbuncle Cup?

Two years ago I moved into Strata, SE1, and two years (and a couple of weeks) ago we were nominated and won the 2010 Carbuncle Cup.

Before its nomination the narrative of the building was very positive - an environmentally innovative construction that was spearheading a long planned and difficult regeneration scheme. After our “victory”, any mention of our home in the respectable press gets the “Carbuncle Cup winner” prefix and a snobbish sneer.

I could go against each reference in our nomination, but ultimately a love or hate of Strata’s exterior design is a matter of personal taste. However, where the Cup has - I contend - got off track, is in raising the aesthetic above the functional. It is as if Masterchef were to award its prizes based on photos of the food, without tasting the finished dish.

Strata tower by BFLS.

Source: Steve Meddle/Rex Features

2010 Carbuncle Cup winner. BFLS’s 43-storey Strata tower, topped with three wind turbines, dominates the south London skyline from the Elephant&Castle.

Strata is a modernist building - its form follows its functions. As well as being home to a thousand people, Strata’s form was also dictated by other, less mechanical, needs. It needed to get approved by Southwark (who wanted a landmark) and by Ken Livingstone’s City Hall (who wanted on-site renewables). It also needed to be buildable, physically and financially.

Other schemes - Rogers’ 360 being a notable local example - may be more comfortably familiar in their design - but where is it? On Churchyard Row, SE11, there’s a hoarded-up nothing.

This is not the only one. Between Strata and the river there are 360, Tribeca Square, 1 Blackfriars Bridge, Potter Fields and Eileen Tower … not one of the schemes has got beyond the point of demolishing what was - leaving scars of inactivity where thousands should be living.

For the 400 households now living, largely happily, in this corner of SE1, Strata is something wonderful. A modern, secure, well laid out, economical, efficient home within minutes of all the opportunities of zone 1. This diverse group of people has become a real community. Beyond our front door we’re getting involved in our local area - using local businesses and contributing to the consultation for the future regeneration. Strata was good for the area, but not half as good as the Stratans are going to be.

The people behind Strata did what others failed to do: build. Everyone involved in its construction deserves, in some way, a hearty pat on the back from the industry - whether you like the cladding or not.

Strata residents

Source: Nicholas Chinardet

Some of the current residents of the Carbuncle Cup-winning Strata Tower

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Readers' comments (28)

  • It looks like a cigarette lighter. How a "real community" can thrive in a building that is clearly not community minded, is beyond me.

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  • You can rationalise it to your heart's content but the fact remains: this horrible building brings nothing but shame to London and to the architectural profession.

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  • "Strata is a modernist building - its form follows its functions." Erm... no it isn't and no it doesn't.

    What function is the silly crazy paving black and white facade labouring to achieve? It is also so out of keeping with the local area in terms of scale and facade.

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  • If form followed function this would be a beard trimmer for a giant.

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  • It's good to see that the people living in Strata are happy there! A couple of additional tall buildings in the area will create a more aesthetically pleasing cluster. Someone has to be the first to build though and Strata pulled this off.

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  • Kirsten Elliott

    I think James Upsher has a point when he says that the look of a building is being rated way above its functionality. Parry's Holburne extension in Bath goes on winning awards, yet as a functioning builidng it's a nightmare. I can only assume the judges worked from carefully chosen photographs. There's all the wasted space between the interior and the exterior, making the rooms cramped and claustrophobic. There have been two accidents, one quite serious, where people have walked into plate glass, thinking it was a way through. Because it was decided that the floor levels in the extension should not match the floors in the older building - on the grounds we plebs were too stupid to recognise we were going from old to new - the junction at mezzanine level has a short sharp ramp, which is a trip hazard. The interior of the cafe is dark and gloomy. Basically, it's a very expensive lift shaft. And in the wrong light, even the much vaunted exterior simply looks like a rusty water tank attached to the back of the Holburne. Grimshaw's spa building isn't much better - except it does cram a lot into a small space - while Parry has managed the reverse. While I accept, nay, strongly agree, that architecture needs aesthetics - as Le Corbusier said, art enters in with a great building -could we also have a bit more interest in function, please? Perhaps the Louis Sullivan prize for the building which best fulfils its function?

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  • "its form follows its function"
    Yes indeed, it has been designed to maximise its main function: delivering a healthy profit for the developer.

    At least it's convenient for the tube- wouldn't want the residents to have to shop in Elephant & Castle shopping centre.

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  • Good SteveG : talking out of his “cluster” again??

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  • Those wind turbines are off more than they're on. You're right in that form follows function, both are awful.

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  • zecks_marquise

    I look at this building every day from my window. Sometimes I laugh, Sometimes I cry, but I am never bored. I'm sure if the sanctimonious trollers on this site had their way, it never would have been built. I'm sure with their infinite pearls of wisdom, they would have designed a wondrous tower fit for Babel himself. Yet all I can taste two years later is sour grapes. Their inane yapping is as tiresome as it is moot.

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