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Saturday01 November 2014

Strata tower wins 2010 Carbuncle Cup

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BFLS’s Strata tower in Elephant & Castle beats a strong field to win BD’s award for the ugliest new building in Britain.

Rather alarmingly, the Carbuncle Cup has been supported more energetically this year than ever before. Thirty-one buildings were nominated by readers united in their often poetic expressions of outrage.

The mainstream media got on board too. Stephen Bayley made an impassioned plea in The Times for giving the award to Renzo Piano’s Central St Giles while viewers of BBC Northern Ireland were treated to an extended item on the evening news about the extraordinary number of Belfast buildings that had been nominated. Of the Belfast projects only the St Anne’s Square development made the shortlist as much for its calamitous urban impact as for its overscaled and underimagined pastiche classicism. The judges, Christopher Woodward, Owen Hatherley, Amanda Baillieu and Ellis Woodman, deemed the multi-storey car park – complete with storey-high rendered quoins – that the development presents to one of Belfast’s major thoroughfares as particularly heinous.

The Carbuncle Cup, now in its fifth year, is BD's award for the ugliest building in Britain completed in the past 12 months.

The Carbuncle Cup, now in its fifth year, is BD’s award for the ugliest building in Britain completed in the past 12 months.

Newcastle’s Haymarket Hub received multiple nominations last year but was denied a place on the shortlist on the grounds that it was yet to complete. This year the vast, jelly mould-like transport interchange by Reid Jubb Brown finally made it through. It is a building that suggests the altogether unwelcome influence of Foster & Partners’ nearby Sage Gateshead. The judges quaked at the thought that we might be witnessing the birth of a new north-east vernacular.

Make Architects made its second appearance on the shortlist in as many years, this time for the newly completed Cube in Birmingham. Representing what can only be hoped is the ne plus ultra of randomised elevational treatments, this pixellated leviathan was billed by its architect as a jewel evoking Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. However, as the Brum-based reader who nominated it noted: “The result is more along the lines of a lumpy beige ornament your father buys your mother for her birthday because he thinks it’s classy, whereas she can see it for the tat it is.”

The Robert Burns Memorial Centre in Kilmarnock generated the most heated public reaction. Designed by the local authority architects at East Ayrshire Council, this nothing if not utilitarian structure encompasses the rem-ains of a 19th century memorial to Scotland’s national bard that fell victim to an arson attack in 2004. The consensus was that considerable insult had been added to injury, the new work being all but indistinguishable from the bike sheds of a 1980s primary school. However, the judges held firm to the principle that the role of the cup was to recognise those buildings that attain a truly offensive level of ugliness. The Burns Memorial Centre may be very bad indeed, but we all felt it was actually too pathetic to evoke more than a slightly mystified sense of pity.

We were, however, left with two buildings that fitted the bill nicely. The first was the Bézier apartments on London’s Old Street roundabout by TP Bennett. There is a great deal wrong with this building – the clunkiness of its detailing, its assault course-like hard landscaping, its provision of an expanse of balconies on to one of the most heavily trafficked intersections in central London – but the building owes its inclusion on the shortlist to an altogether more fundamental failure, namely its startling resemblance to a gigantic pair of buttocks. In years past the “Bézier Bum” would surely have walked away with the prize. And yet this year’s judges were able to dispense with its claim to the award relatively quickly, presented as they were with a structure on the other side of the Thames that we all agreed was quite simply the ugliest tall building ever constructed in London.

What is it that makes BFLS’s Strata tower in Elephant & Castle so uniquely distressing? Certainly the pungent aroma of boy-musk that hangs over the whole enterprise is a large part of it. Decked out with Philishave stylings, this is a building that appears to be auditioning for a supporting role in a James Bond title sequence. (A Bond title sequence, let us reiterate, in Elephant & Castle.)

Then there is the fact that as the sole tall building in its locale, it is utterly inescapable for miles around. Adam Jones, one of its nominators, bemoaned: “I used to live in south London and moved partly because – and I’m not joking – the Strata tower made me feel ill and I had to see it every day.”

The building’s grim stridency is exacerbated by its sporty livery of alternating black and white stripes, configured, needless to say, in voguish barcode distribution. And to literally cap it all off there are the three gargantuan wind turbines at the top. The architect has trumpeted that these could supply 8% of the building’s energy requirements, which seems nothing much to shout about given the enormous expenditure in carbon that has been required to engineer such a baroque arrangement and the fact that this is a part of London that has absolutely no need for the creation of a 147m-tall tower.

For services to greenwash, urban impropriety and sheer breakfast- extracting ugliness, we hereby award the 2010 Carbuncle Cup to the Strata tower.

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Readers' comments (60)

  • Well I suggest Adam Jones walks around London with his head down focussed on pavement so that he doesn't feel too dizzy by looking up.

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  • Having worked at Hamiltons (now BFLS) while this was being designed, I totally agree. It is horrible. Working there was one of the most frustrating 9 months of my life. good riddance.

    Let me suggest that they rearrange their acronym so that the B and S can get more properly acquainted. something like LFBS :-)

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  • I don't know what you are complaining about, it has three blades for a closer shave and comes with a two year guarantee.

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  • zecks_marquise

    I know let's reclad it in portland stone. you guys are all fools

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  • BD would seem to have had a bee in their bonnet about Strata since it was planned, but your write up today plays fast and easy with the facts; let alone the subjective aspects of taste.

    The fact is that it is part of a planned cluster - the miracle is that one developer actually got on and did something while Southwark prevaricated. It's got the 22 floor Draper House next door, Rodgers 40 odd floor '360' will be going up across the road (with a bit of luck) and the 14 floor Hannibal house on the shopping centre was to make way for two similarly lofty buildings. Eileen house, to the north, will also be making its mark, and we're only minutes away from the Shard and Guys. Boris's fiddling with the sight lines might make this stand out more than planned, but you can't blame the architects for that.

    It takes a bit of an imaginative leap to see the building in its future context, rather than the rather grimy present, but that shouldn't be beyond anyone that reads this site. Contextual unsuitability? This is one plot where being in keeping with the immediate surroundings was exactly what not to do, seeing as they are all broadly despised and due to be demolished.

    Ah, but of course, you didn't think to mention any of these aspects in your write up.

    I, and I suspect the other 500 odd residents, would beg to differ that there was no need for the creation of a 147m-tall tower here. We all think it's rather super.

    Oh, and lay-off the elephant; it's awesome. Us new residents are all very excited to be here and join in making it even better.

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  • A worthy winner for sure!

    A shame the little 'pavilion' next door didn't get a mention. Same plan and cladding but just 3 storeys high. Unfortunate that you can see it from EVERYWHERE in London! Totally grim.

    Fingers crossed that the rest of the E+C regeneration isn't as horrific as this.

    Strong contenders all round.

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  • This is by no way the worst of the list.

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  • ....in fact I liked this building so much, I bought the company

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  • 'This is a part of London that has absolutely no need for the creation of a 147m tall tower' - except that its in the centre of Elephant and Castle, one of the largest redevelopments in central London, set to have several more similar height towers in the near future......................has Mr Woodman ever ventured south of borough market? In light of the distant photos of the north elevation only, I fear neither himself or the other judges have...............

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  • What a load of drivel. This development was badly needed in elephant and castle. Anyone who doesn’t agree probably hasn't taken the time to actually visit the area (which is treated so patronisingly in this article it beggars belief). The tower is not an eyesore. It is a beacon of what could be for the area; regeneration and a brighter future for a part of London dominated by housing estates and gray concrete monstrosities. Should we be building more of these? Or of course we could use the reams of free space you must believe exists somewhere in the area to avoid building upward? Short sighted, ill-informed and pretty offensive to E&C residents

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