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It’s time to put the Carbuncle Cup out of its misery

Paul Finch
  • 11 Comments

This wretched ‘trophy’ is the product of mental idleness rather than genuine thought about how architecture absorbs and reflects culture, says Paul Finch

The self-important worthies who bore us rigid each year with prognostications about bad architecture are at it again. The brigade behind the Carbuncle Cup – run by a rival publisher – have the UBS building by Make in their sights, and it will be surprising if it doesn’t carry off the smelly little trophy.

Certainly the headquarters complex at Broadgate is big. It is assertive. And from the point of view of the CC jury it has the advantage of representing the forces of capitalism and commercial architecture and they, of course, are bad. Ever since Ken Shuttleworth left the Foster tribe, the nastier elements in the poison-pen culture of blogs and tweets have had it in for him. No matter that the practice is run on John Lewis Partnership lines rather than conventional top-down ownership, these people design offices.

5 Broadgate, London, by Make Architects

5 Broadgate, London, by Make Architects

5 Broadgate, London, by Make Architects

This was ok when Ken was designing them for Norman, but now it isn’t. Thus the sentimentalisation of the Arup Associates buildings, demolished in order to keep UBS not just in Broadgate, but in the City of London. Of course Peter Foggo’s class Broadgate act was for speculative offices, not a known user. Indeed that is why Arup had to have a board meeting to take a decision as to whether they would work with a speculative property developer on the project, Stuart Lipton.

They decided they would do so, but that attitude of suspicion, an example of the cultural apartheid that meant anyone who did commercial work must be a bad architect, is alive and well. Those who control the CC seem to know next to nothing about commercial architecture, hate it, campaign against it and only keep quiet when a self-evidently ‘good’ architect, like Eric Parry, wins a commission to design the tallest tower in the City of London, demolishing the rather good CU tower in the process.

The predictable tone of the CC nominations is echoed by the predictability of the results. The judges don’t get out much, so the focus is generally on London. If you can attack a big name, all the better, hence the ludicrous abuse poured on the Cutty Sark project by Grimshaw. Commercial uses are a red rag to a bull, hence the campaign against another ‘winner’, the Tesco store with apartments above at Woolwich, a brave and successful attempt to revive a benighted town centre,  which I supported while sitting on the design review panel which assessed the plan.

Residents may have voted with their feet in buying and renting space in the Elephant and Castle ‘Darth Vader’ tower, and it may have put that location on the mental map of many who didn’t realise how central the area is. But it didn’t stop a faction of the Miserablist Tendency from awarding it the CC. OK so the windmill blades at the top are never used – better a fertile error than a sterile accuracy, in my view.

London's Strata tower

London’s Strata tower

BFLS’s Strata Tower at Elephant and Castle

The worst sort of architecture is that which is cynical, exploitative, dull and which stifles rather than enables. Moronic comments about UBS and its deep plan (shock horror, a City of London banking building has trading floors) ignore the obvious commitment to architecture and to construction quality that have gone into the building. You don’t have to like the result, but at least think about the programme, the challenges and the rationale behind what has been built. Ditto the other examples given above.

My real objection to the CC is that it is the product of mental idleness rather than genuine thought about the way in which architecture both absorbs and reflects culture, economics, fashion and the myriad other elements which inform the way we now live, work and play.

By the way, the creepy CC deference to the Prince of Wales in the choice of name ignores the fact that the phrase ‘monstrous carbuncle’ was lifted by the Prince, to describe ABK’s National Gallery extension. He lifted it from a novel by the step-mother of Princess Diana, no less than that towering literary figure, Barbara Cartland.

The cup, possibly along with her books, should be binned.

  • 11 Comments

Readers' comments (11)

  • It is a publicity stunt on behalf of the organizers and has nothing to do with people who may be affected -- it is what passes for a public campaign on the part of a trivial media.

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