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Wednesday16 April 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)

  • The prize has certainly generated a good healthy debate, for which congratulations. There's no doubt some of the judging commentary come across as gratuitously vindictive, not exactly a nuanced analysis! Let's be honest it's hard to debate something as subjective as "whether a building is ugly or not" , which probably explains the heated comments on both sides. For my part I think this building has/had a lot of potential. Comments about location, size, shape and so on are missing the point - it could have been an elegant addition, but sadly the cladding spoils this tower. The use of black and the pointless randomness - in my subjective opinion they don't work.

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  • ...reminds me of the splendid Tour Montparnasse - is that good?

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  • JA I'm inclined to agree that the question of whether a building is ugly or not cannot be given a conclusive answer, only more or less considered opinions for which a plethora of conflicting reasons will be given.

    But perhaps that is only true if the modern definition of beauty, as a superficial aesthetic determined by subjective opinion, is used. Before the industrial revolution architecture was considered beautiful, at one level, not if it conformed to a pre-conceived notion of what the building as an object should look like, but if it added richness to the experience of the city and improved the public realm (I hope somebody more informed can correct or add to that).

    To conclude the response to this year's Carbuncle Cup in some way, perhaps it would work better if the award had been given to the building which, at all scales, caused most damage to the public realm. My vote would still be with Strata.

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  • Adam,

    Before the industrial revolution we had plenty of space, we could all live in cites if we wanted too (even though they were not very pleasant then). Strata cannot be compared with long ago, it's concieved in a different age. We have to go tall near city centres to be green and reduce travel based CO2, the only building for that site must have been a tall one. So once again its a question of aesthetics.

    I must however disagree with Strata damaging the public realm. Please do go and look at the public realm around Strata. The context of E+C is Draper House, Hannibal House, the old Castle House Strata replaced etc. The context and public realm is vastly improved with Strata.

    What seems to offend people, for some reason, is the views from afar, but as I said earlier these were all considered and its a question of personal taste.

    What I will say is to agree with JA that the judges have been gratuitously vindictive. Strata was proposed by the Georgian Group, quite why I don't know, there is no Georgian context? The 4 self proclaimed judges Christopher Woodward, Owen Hatherley, Amanda Baillieu and Ellis Woodman then seemed to undertaken a personal vendetta against Strata. So what we have is a small group of reporters angling for a sensational story, backed up by little substance. It all seems very personal and one sided.

    Well they havent changed my view, I guess yours was established long ago, vareity is the spice of life...!

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  • Kate Moss (you wish),

    Why do you and others continue this attack on architects, you name several practices and blame them for slapping up their cheap buildings! Since when has an architect determined the budget?

    This is becoming a stupid argument. Architects do the best they can with the budget, site, planning restrictions, building regulations etc. Imagine how much worse buildings would be without architects.

    Lets please all stop the attack on architects who are all trying as hard as the can to make things better. Designing and completing large projects is a huge, complex undertaking involving many stake holders. Stop blaming the one group of people who are trying to fix the problems and improve things.

    BD and all the moaners out there should join forces with architects and concentrate their efforts on developers, banks, planners, local groups etc. and educate them in good design.

    This backstabbing is doing nothing to advance good architecture!

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  • Wow! what a weak and feeble profession we are!

    A stupid dialogue to say the least - Architects could have it so easy if we just learnt that architecture is our profession and every architect forms part it. We should should look after our people and protect them and not act like vultures when attacked!!!!!! Its a joke and after reading the above I am sorry to call myself an architect!

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  • Simon  Quinlank

    I'm sorry if I've offended any architects, I didn't realise that they're exempt from criticism. The carbuncle cup is for the building so as Norman infers we're all responsible and so all winners in the end.

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  • I was so excited by the news that I wrote a brief but controversial essay about the Philishave (sorry Strata), I called it: The ugliest in UK or so much for “green” design. http://archialternative.com/
    The taboo for criticizing sustainable architecture for it's ugliness is finally broken. “The Emperor is naked.” Nice.

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  • While this debate might expose some awkward truths about the state of British architecture, I am happy to be a practicing architect in a country where such a wide range of approaches are accomodated within its building culture. In a sense its a democratic culture, where no stance is suppressed.

    What is highly undemocratic about the project in question however is the relentless way it imposes its stance on an unsuspecting public.

    The wiff of the dictator also presents itself in the way the individual lives of its occupants are made invisible, and subsumed within an all encompassing whole by the vertical stripes and crown of redundent turbines, making an image that is more familiar to product design than to an architecture genuinely concerned for the city.

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  • I think it is a good thing to promote good architecture as well as bad architecture it shows that architects care. Being self critical shows that architects are not just self interested and may help clients put more time/money into the visual impact of buildings.
    Don’t take the competition to seriously, I know one or two of the general public which think it is interesting and it will hopefully look better when the rest of the buildings around it go up.

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