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Friday24 October 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)

  • I accept your definition of the social context of Strata being housing shortages and more general environmental issues, but it's really pushing it to say that the project engages with that context intelligently

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  • But the only way to have this scheme engage with the context in another way would be to build another awful rectangular block. Then it would surely fit in. This is one of those occasions when anything other than such a block would be an improvement. Just about any building of any height would stand out in that area, since everything surrounding it is so poor aesthetically.

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  • In a way awarding Strata this award is a real shot in a foot. Finally bdonline have finally shown that the award is a total farce. Strata is one of the finest skyscrapers built in europe in the last few years and adds greatly to the London skyline, particularly when viewed south from St Pauls. Even more of a crime is the suggestion that it in some way detracts from the area. It's in Elephant and Castle for Christ sake! It will be part of a much wider development, and if it wern't for the damn site lines in london, there would have been a much larger cluster of skyscrapers in the area. However much like those who chose and run this award, there are people in this country who can't see past their own backward thinking and pompus arrogance, detesting anything that is forward thinking and innovative particularly when it is in their own backyard. If you have a problem with skyscrapers and modern design, then I suggest you go and move out of the city, particularly one as large as London and commute to work so you can't be offended at progress.

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  • It seems a pattern is emerging - most of the comments that claim that Strata to be a good building are based on a questionable aesthetic opinions, and represent the very attitude to London (''It's in Elephant and Castle for Christ sake!'') that has produces such a bad building as the Strata tower. I don't mean bad by personal aesthetic standards, but in its absolute disregard for place and surface engagement with its supposed social and environmental contexts, all of which suffer as a result of a tunnel-vision obsession with plot ratio.

    The typical floor plan of the Strata tower - http://www.archdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/1279904082-typical-floor-plan-528x373.jpg - shows elongated individual flats which appear to have only one window at the end, bathrooms without windows (damp mouldy and claustrophobic even when the ventilation system is working), and some awkward pointy corners that have no justification other than that make an exterior like a vacuum cleaner. It feels like it's been designed by a product designer rather than an architect, and what does that mean? How long is it before a vacuum cleaner looks outdated, is treated badly and breaks, and is thrown away only to be replaced by a new one? Product design in this case is about maximising the intial appeal of a product without regard for its long term use - I would therefore ask those who feel they like the tower, to question whether it's more the designers tricks that attract them and not something more integral.

    The wind turbines do little more for its sustainable credentials other than provide a green-wash icon, producing 8% of the building's power or as the engineers excitedly claimed recently 11% - what about all the extra energy needed to power the air-con for the half of the rooms that don't have windows?

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  • Surely, any building that prompts such debate is a very good thing and something that should be embraced.....the nature of what we do is subjective.......and the only way we can move froward is by talking through such issues........... long may the debate live and as a footnote.....although the eco bling turbines are questionable as an aesthetic they do offer something very different.........

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  • Belfast design - a piece of it landed in Dublin in the nineties.

    As the architect charged with taking a part of this development to site following its purchase by a housing specialist, I was told by the Council planning officer to change the "look" of the permitted elevations.

    He had seen how phase on worked out and had developed an allergy to what he termed "Belfast Industrial".

    This time its belfast Neo-Classical that gets it in the neck.
    Poor Belfast just can't seem to get a look in.

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  • RE the Strata Tower - while the apartments at the "corners" may have more than one aspect, the infills between appear to have neither another aspect nor another level.

    This kind of thinking has been frowned upon in Dublin for several few years now - dual aspect apartments or multi-level apartments were sought to increase internal amenity.

    I agree with the previous poster that the architecture seems to be subject to component design - I vew this as a natural consequence of the improved tools for visualization offices can afford today allied to the lack of archtiectural training in those using them.

    You're getting a play on forms and technology, not a working through of a tested and appropriate concept from plan to section to form, pulling the whole thing together.

    As a result we get sexy sales videos and 3D views, but ultimately less satisfying architecture, divorced from its surroundings, towering, an alien form, anti-social in its relationship with the inhabitants and the cityscape.

    The logical end of the Lloyds experiment in design I suppose.

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  • Adam Jones,

    Of course all good comments regarding Strata are based on aesthetic opinion as it is a very fine building (in my opinion), the pattern stands true for the negativity too. If the building divides opinion fine, then its a matter of personal taste. It just seems those who criticise do so without proper justification, using vulgar language as they can't justify why they think its ugly.

    As a resident, who has been in many apartments there, I can say the apartments are amazingly full of light, all the windows are floor to ceiling and the living spaces open plan. There are stunning views everywhere and it seems to me this is how the apartments have been arranged, for maximum views and light. My 'one window' as you call it is 2.5M high and 4M wide, what a window!

    You are also wrong about the AC, only the top few floors have cooling and it is not full AC but comfort cooling. The remaining apartments are all naturally ventilated, as befits a building with excellent green credentials. This is backed up by an excellent, whole house ventilation system, individually tailored for each apartment with heat exchangers to further reduce CO2 emissions. Its probably the Rolls Royce of venting systems.

    The bathrooms are hardly claustrophobic, they are a lot larger than other apartments I viewed and the quality of the tiles is stunning, in fact they are fully tiled, no opportunity for mould anywhere!

    I suggest you and others get down there and arrange a viewing, how can you be so prejudiced if you have not even been inside!

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  • Norman, thank you for providing an inside view. I agree that finger-pointing is unproductive as subjective opinions will always at odds. Having said that, Strata's award wasn't necessarily given for its aesthetic approach, but for the way it projects that aesthetic to the wider city. Of course these things are subjective, and so it follows that a number of citizens will be offended by a building like this one who's presence can't be ignored, from almost anywhere in central London.

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  • Adam, quite, I'm glad we agree on the finger pointing. I think its very important however that the way the building projects itself to the city has been very well considered. You can view the planning info and design statement on the planning portal (or at least it used to be there) and its staggering the amount of stakeholders involved.

    The building was considered from 50+ LVMF views around London and designed to work aesthetically from each one, Southwark, CABE, the GLA, local interest groups, Other LA's etc all had a hand in the outcome as well as the developer, builder, sub contractors, letting agents, banks, social housing providers, TFL, Railtrack, structural engineer, mechanical engineer, fire engineer, turbine consultants, roof cradle consultants, and of course the banks, financiers and the budget. I'm sure the list goes on. What I'm trying to say is that the architects will have had a whole host of interested parties to consider and integrate and its a miracle the building looks as good as it does.

    I think its a shame that the BD and some readers have jumped to conclusions like this without understanding the process' involved. Every building has a story to tell and its unfair to lash out without proper understanding, more empathy between architects and other designers should be exercised. The process today is far more complex than it used to be. When I look at a building I try to understand 'why' what were the reasons for a particular detail or feature, what made the architect choose that route, even in aesthetically challenged buildings, a process and reason can be deciphered.

    Everything has a reason and purpose, I think its time to stop this Carbuncle nonsense and concentrate on the positive and not the negative!

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