Every year the British website BD online runs the Carbuncle Cup competition, their “architectural roll of dishonour to bring the worst examples of architecture into the spotlight.” Its name comes from Prince Charles, who once complained that a building addition looked like a "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a beloved friend”. I am always surprised that it exists; architects are usually polite about criticizing others work. This is not polite.
This year there is no obvious stand-out like last year’s universally reviled 20 Fenchurch Street, AKA the Walkie Talkie AKA the Fryscraper, that this TreeHugger has been obsessed with. This year is just a succession of mediocre buildings, many of which share the same notable feature: hideously ugly exterior cladding. Notably:
The tower is clad in virulent purples, reds and oranges that can be seen from miles away. There is no chance of missing this one when staggering home after a long night out in the pub. The tower is clad in vertically arranged coloured cladding panels that make the whole thing look like an oversized Lego creation. The panels have been artfully arranged with red panels interspersed with orange in the centre of the tower, radiating towards the edges in dark and light purples.
There are a number of reasons that architects are doing this kind of thing; it is harder to do the easy thing, floor to ceiling glass, because of energy concerns. They can’t play much with the building form because that is essentially pre-determined by the developer, the zoning bylaw and the market. So all they get to play with is the wallpaper. And sometimes it gets a big garish.
An aesthetic mutation between the nostalgic 1980s brain games of Connect 4 and Blockbusters might not seem like a natural breeding ground for architectural malevolence but this building proves what happens when colour goes rogue. Our readers pilloried Stoke on Trent’s new council offices as being “hideous”, “nasty” and “awful”.They have a point.
On its own, this one doesn’t seem too bad, although the facade is pretty busy. What seems to irk is the loss of a beloved building for this pile; “it is known locally as the bling building and is on a prominent site, making it visible from across the valley.
A local taxi driver pointed out that it is only a matter of time before a student has a go at using the exterior cladding as a climbing wall as some people choose to study at Sheffield partly because of the good climbing in the Peak district.
Living as I do in a city where ugly condos are built on every block, I was surprised that this one made the short list; I thought it had interesting massing and form, albeit clad in an ugly skin. The jurors think otherwise:
Every now and then a project comes along that simply beggars belief. This is one of them. 31 storeys of bilious cladding are piled one on top of the other to create an assortment of haphazardly assembled facades that are crude, jarring and shambolic. Were that not enough the facades enwrap a grotesque Jenga game of rabid rectilinear blocks of no discernible form or profile and perforated by a series of balconies which one reader surmises “are an open invitation to commit suicide”.
“It is unsustainable development, parasitic on the more humanely designed areas around it, which its creation has eroded. Imagine a city centre – even a city – composed mostly of buildings like this. When planners genuflect before the gods of finance, we should all fear for the future. 5 Broadgate is an expensively crafted carbuncle."
This boring little project is just sad, and also a demonstration of what can happen without good controls and supervision. It was originally approved as a glass box on stilts, and what happens?
The completed building looks more like a set of construction site huts rather than a positive addition to the character of the conservation area. It sends a poor message that a scheme can be significantly weakened in quality from its original aims by continual design erosion and amendment.
There are always lessons to be learned from the Carbuncle Cup. The Poole Methodist Church is the Walkie Talkie writ small: a certain project gets approved and for various reasons, what gets built is not quite what everyone expected. A bigger story is how architects are working their way through the new world where you cannot just cover a building in glass, but you have to actually design a facade. This is not easy, as the Carbuncle Cup short list demonstrates.