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Beige Concern

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Ian Martin announces this year’s Beige Building Award winners

Four years after the Beige Building Awards replaced the Green Building Awards, the competition is fiercer than ever. It’s always a shame there has to be a winner. Depressing, in fact.

Feels like ancient history now, the pre-austerity world, with its ‘green’ this and its ‘sustainable’ that. And how wasteful it seems, with our New Frugalist hindsight. We squandered so much visual capital. Created buildings that were ecologically sound AND attractive. What a scandalous waste of neural and optical resources. Green. How laughably inappropriate for these joyless times we now trudge through. Of course it takes a dazzlingly ordinary building to win a beige accolade. The stakes are lower than ever. ‘Austerity Chic’ is now merely the name of a pub tribute band. As usual the judges were looking for that magic post-green combination of ‘economically prim’ and ‘spectacularly dull’. As I say, it’s a shame there has to be a winner and to be honest this year we couldn’t be arsed to pick one. Shortlisted Beige Projects of the Year are as follows:

Mumford-Lowry Centre, Salford Beige. Ingenious combination of charity shop economics (pop-up clothes boutique) and vegetative retrofit (hanging baskets). The project’s point of departure was a corner of Salford Beige Retail Centre, where a cluster of vacant units turned recession into opportunity. A team of spatialology students from the University of Salford Beige Retail Centre experimented with notions of ‘Lowry’ and ‘retail’, translating sentences into French via a free online service. Soon a nondescript section of mall was renamed Boulevard des Hommes Allumettes and the faux-vintage clothing ironised as ‘cross-glaminated poverty style-out’. Now fully up and running, energy levels remain impressively low.

A Beige Crossing for the Thames. Magic arborealist Isis de Cambray was asked by the Mayor of London to imagine ‘something less than a bridge, something less than a garden’. She mapped out a zero-carbon, zero-finance intervention along Blackfriars railway line featuring indigenous weedlife and inter-seasonal energy storage through the sustainable medium of urban litter. A very soft environmental landing indeed for the beige-fingered doyenne.

Beige Stat Hub, Haggerston. Masterbeiged by Haggerston Plastiche Collective, this non-interfunctionalist remodelling of a derelict dry cleaner’s features a secluded wildlife roof and an ‘arm’s-length’ conservation of the building itself. Existing form and mass are preserved separately behind blown-up pictures in the windows (stills from Transformers and Carry On films). A carbon-neutral website invites members of the Haggerston community to ‘think of the kind of statistics the building might notionally be a hub for the collation of’. Particular attention was paid to achieving an airtight font pool, with targets of 5m³/hr/m² for imagined space and 7m³/hr/m² at weekends.

The Beigefield Initiative. By proposing that huge areas of greenfield be redesignated ‘brownfield’ to encourage housebuilding and, further, that huge areas of brownfield be redesignated ‘beigefield’ to encourage speculation about what that might mean, young psychogeographers Osmo Kirkegrid and Poppy Cumbly-Prideaux hope to get a two-page spread in next Saturday’s Independent.

Beigedale Retirement Home, Lancashire. Designed and built by Beige Retirement Solutions, this offers residents a near-maximum flexibility of visual interpretation by being virtually featureless. Quintuple-glazed ‘merry windows’ channel a) natural light into beige resi-pods and b) semi-skimmed light into beige communal areas. The beige cladding envelope, or ‘cardigan’, turns a pastel yellow on special occasions when photovoltaic microbes and algae come to visit.

Beige Office Village, Exeter. Devised strictly within the matrix of healthier live-work reinforcement principles known as ‘beige active design’, this business park makeover by Herban Squelch shows a commendably narrow focus while languidly ticking all the beige boxes. Interior and exterior grassroots strategies. Human ‘parklets’. Portable headspace. Communal trees. Networked walkthroughs. Repurposed sightlines. Connected ‘playgrazing’. Leylandii.

Milkington Beigemarket, Ely. Demountable structures assembled from milk crates in a church car park for the sale of allotment-grown produce, increasing green and beige impacts through presence of charmingly imperfect fruit and veg.

Beige Free School, Wimbledon. Ingeniously formed by installing a primary school for the energy-efficient children of aspirational Conservative parents within the shell of a publicly-owned building formerly occupied by wasteful, high-calorie state pupils, this centre of academic excellence was designed by education placemoulders Artshole & Batard. An exterior of beige Serbian larch, heavy glazing, deep sedum roof and planted ‘beige barriers’ help insulate the building from a) financial scrutiny and b) the rest of Wimbledon.


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