Tuesday22 August 2017

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.


Readers' comments (61)

  • Just remember the people responsible are those who are paying for this, perhaps their names should be stated also, or would this be bad for business. I agree on the negativity aspect but the architect unfortunately is not the only acountable party involved.

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  • I, among others, worked on the renders of this scheme - it was a difficult but fairly enjoyable scheme to work with and it's really very similar to our renders (or should that be the other way around? :) ). I'm not sure what to make of it now it's built. The area is/was a dump so anything fairly decent is welcome in my eyes. I go past it on the train fairly regularly and it undoubtedly catches the eye. I think once the neighbouring schemes have gone up around it it will work in context. as it stands now it's very hard to appreciate properly. the lobby and interior (especially up the top) are fairly amazing by the way. i'd like a chance to see it inside.

    i think people often forget that a building should be judged equally on its interior, perhaps especially so, given how striking the exterior is in this case.

    oh and it should go without saying that there are FAR worse schemes than this this year. not sure how this one made it through really.

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  • This is a architectural nightmare deserves to win the Carbuncle Cup, as with so many of the bad buildings on this years long and short list, they deserve to be shown up for what they are, anacronism's. Well done BD for making this competition happen.

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  • jamesup - ''being in keeping with the immediate surroundings'' and sentivity are two quite different things. There's no such thing as a site without qualities - if an architect makes that conclusion then they're not looking hard enough.

    Strata represents a misconceived capitalist ideal. We don't tolerate ideology in contemporary politics - how can we when everyone has such different needs today - politics today is about negotiation and contingency, Strata's is not an architecture of negotiation and contingency, it simply ignores context. It has no place within contemporary society, in its temporal, political, or urban environment. I don't know where its place is, it could be anywhere.

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  • adam jones - don't mistake the pre-crash neoliberal ideological consensus among leaders of the three main parties with a lack of ideology per se.

    Strata's social context is an acute housing shortage in the South East, and energy/climate crisis more generally. Its very high density development above a tube stop in an area with interesting things near by is entirely appropriate to this context.

    Although I would concede that its lipstick/knuckleduster styling is less appropriate. If you're going to build something that big, you really ought to make it nice.

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  • This has to be the most ridiculous article I have ever read, the 'ugliest tall building ever constructed in London', are you sure, have you ever looked around you? Strata stands proud and boldly proclaims what a great area the E+C is, I recall Simon Hughes MP in an article saying what a great beacon it is for E+C and South London. Let's not forget Strata is in a regeneration area and this is the first building in a massive investment. It's in the most sustainable area possible next to main rail station, tube lines and bus interchange, its 10 minutes walk from central London. Where else could affordable houses be built in central London to allow people to get to work with so little environmental travel damage. And lets not forget a massive proportion of these apartments are affordable. As for the wind turbines, good on the developer for trying, they were conceived at a time when the Merton rule had to be followed and on site renewables had to be provided, not CO2 reductions as now. Providing 8% is a lot better than 0% and I also hear the building is designed to plug into the district energy system, called Musco, has very efficient cladding and superb energy ratings. As for the voguish barcode, how else would highly efficient insulation be provided? This is not an office that can be fully glazed, its a residential building, there has to be an element of solid and void, would uniform punched windows be preferred? It's also naturally ventilated. As for the context, have any of the protagonists been to E+C? How can the author talk about the massive amount of energy that's been expended to produce the turbines, where are his figures and research? Lets not forget that the original Carbuncle by ABK was a far better building than the bland building standing off Trafalgar Sq now. Good on everyone involved with Strata for being unique and trying, what a team effort from architects, planners, developers, builders, engineers etc. I look forward to the Bond Film featuring Strata and Mr Bond, reeking of man musk, scaling the dizzy heights for what must be the best view of London. As for the Carbuncle Cup, where is it? I hope the team involved accepts it in the same way Sandra Bullock accepted her 'Razzie' (for the worst actress) the same year she won an Oscar (for best actress) as usually happens in these instances. She made a mockery of the whole system, lets hope history repeats in architecture as in other arts. Onwards and upwards.....

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  • I deeply resent your characterization of the Strata tower as "Decked out with Philishave stylings". A family member is a key member of the Philips design team, and I would disown him were he to design such a graceless lump.

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  • This building is architecture on acid, it's an eyesore! I agree the article is patronising in some parts but it's basically saying what a lot of people are thinking.

    I live in South London and have done so for a good couple of years now. When I got to work I see that butt ugly building. Sat at my desk I see that butt ugly building. And when I go home...you get my drift.

    I'm all for regeneration and bringing much needed funds into a community (E+C desperately needs it) but to build a pile of and have some people on here sing its praises makes me think they've been smoking too much of the ol' wacky baccie.

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  • It is a gobsmackingly ugly building. And the turbines don't go round.

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  • George Morgan - don't mistake the pre-crash neoliberal ideological consensus among leaders of the three main parties with a lack of ideology per se.

    In the idea of a society of negotiation and contingency I was refering to post-crash politics, apologies for the ambiguity. Pre-crash politics was all about ideology - hence the crash perhaps. My point is that Strata represents that ideology and so has no place in society 'as-is'

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