The prize that no architect wants to win

Very few things divide opinion more readily than architecture. Ask Prince Charles. The Carbuncle Cup, awarded (and only reluctantly accepted I’m sure) to the year’s ugliest building, is named after his famous comment about a proposed extension to the National Gallery being a “monstrous carbuncle”. It is awarded each year by architectural magazine Building Design to the building that is considered by a panel of experts to be “the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months”.

This year’s winning (losing?) carbuncle was announced last week. It is Nova Victoria, a mixed-use scheme in London’s Victoria designed by PLP Architecture. The design is based on a triangular arrangement which, as a non-architect myself, would seem to be a spectacularly awkward shape to work with and to work in. I certainly wouldn’t want the office on the top floor of the main red-clad fin like structure – it looks like it would be hardly wide enough to fit a desk in.

carbuncle cup

The design is based on a triangular arrangement which, as a non-architect myself, would seem to be a spectacularly awkward shape to work with and to work in.

Nova bagged this award against strong (weak?) opposition including a new entrance for Preston station that looks like it was designed by someone whose set square had gone wrong, and an extension to a beautiful brick-built period house that could pass muster as a nuclear bunker built of Lego bricks.

Of course, this criticism of contemporary architecture began long before the Carbuncle Cup was launched in 2006. The Eiffel tower – “that hideous tower” – was widely derided in the 19th century as ruining Haussmann’s elegant low-rise city vision. And Gaudi’s masterpiece la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona has been derided and criticised since building began on it in 1882. Doubtless Rome’s Colosseum and Athens’s Parthenon had their detractors when they were built. Fewer branches of the contemporary arts is as public – and therefore open to widespread criticism – as architecture. Much of architectural design is subjective and one person’s carbuncle is another’s beauty spot. So, while the Carbuncle Cup is perhaps meant in the slightly tongue-in-cheek tone that its title suggests, let’s hope it doesn’t deter architects – particularly young ones – from taking risks and building innovative new buildings.

Read more about the Carbuncle Cup here: Building Design Carbuncle Cup

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