The ugliest in UK or so much for “green” design.

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: “Look at the Emperor’s new clothes. They’re beautiful!” – “What a marvellous train!” –  “And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!” They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes… nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence… A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage. “The Emperor is naked,” he said.

The Emperor’s New Clothes, By Hans Christian Anderson

……………………………….

So we have a winner. The Oscar goes to… oh, sorry, it’s not the Oscar. It is a Carbuncle Cup. Ever heard of it?

Well, no wonder I was confused. The candidates this year included such architectural stars as Foster, Aedas, MAKE, Renzo Piano, Benoy, Chapman Taylor, Wilkinson Eyre, Quinlan Terry… I remind you again: this is not an Oscar list. This is not a Pritzker Prize roll or Stilrling either. It’s an annual award for the ugliest UK building (completed in the last 12 months) – a Carbuncle Cup.

Year 2010:  the winner is… a leader in the urban wind power, a pioneering project in terms of the green energy use in high-rises, the tallest residential structure in London. The winner is… Strata Building in south London.

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Philishave

Just few months ago in March 2010 architectural community, green design advocates, officials – all went ecstatic about the Strata Building:

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  • Paul King, the chief executive of the U.K. Building Council, for UK Guardian: “You’ve got to take your hat off to the design team for delivering a building that clearly captures the imagination.”
  • Inhabitat.com, one of the leading green design websites: “Prepare to be blown away: the latest addition to London’s skyline is a striking modern skyscraper that is heralded as the world’s first building with wind turbines built in!”
  • Luxurylaunches.com, prominent Real Estate site: “Dubbed as the Lipstick by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, the building itself will add as eye candy to the Elephant and Castle area with its three giant turbines and black and silver lines which seems to get pixellated as they rise to the top.”
  • Architect Ian Bogle, of London-based BFLS (formerly Hamilton’s Architects), Guardian UK & Beijing Post: “You feel like you own the city”
  • Justin Black, director for Brookfield, the developer: “The brief we gave to Hamilton’s Architects was we wanted a statement, we wanted to create benchmarks for sustainability and urban living. We wanted something bold, we wanted remarkable.”
  • The Times, London 19-03-2010: “The tower’s curved design is elegant and the three massive holes, currently awaiting their five-bladed turbines, are eerily majestic. It is a bold experiment.”

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Apparently ordinary citizens, who were not updated of how “imaginative”, “sustainable”, “striking” the Strata building is (primarily because of those monstrous wind turbines that supposedly will provide 8%  of building energy), had different things to say.

  • “Locals complain that the tower’s disproportionate size and “bar code” colour scheme make it an unavoidable eyesore.”
  • “I used to live in south London & moved partly because — and I’m not joking — the Strata tower made me feel ill and I had to see it every day.”

Those regular folks scornfully call this building “Philishave” (well it is still better than “Penis”, which is a nickname for a skyscraper from Barcelona done by Jean Nouvel, another architectural super-star)

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Penis


Common, you don’t dig it, don’t you? Jean Nouvel is a very iconic figure, he cannot be wrong. He is a STARchitect. His building is cool and stylish. Barcelona should be proud of it. Don’t compare it to Gaudi. Gaudi is obsolete. If you want to understand modern architecture you must like Penis… sorry Torre Agbar.

“This is not a tower. It is not a skyscraper in the American sense of the expression: it is a unique growth in the middle of this rather calm city. But it is not the slender, nervous verticality of the spires and bell towers that often punctuate horizontal cities. Instead, it is a fluid mass that has perforated the ground – a geyser under a permanent calculated pressure.”

That’s an excerpt from Mr. Nouvel’s poetic description of his grand creation. I agree. This is definitely not a skyscraper” in the American sense” (who cares about Chicago School, right?) and there is no “nervous verticality” of those bell towers (Fuck you Sagrada Familia!). For Christ sake, people, don’t you see it? It is just a bloody Penis…
.

Broken Taboo

But let’s go back to our Philishave.

A tendency to construct ecological and sustainable buildings is a great thing. It is a right cause to fight for.

But, it seems to me that somehow the fight became more important than the cause. Today you cannot criticize in any manner a project which somehow utilizes “green technologies” (even if the project is an obvious technological, financial or aesthetical failure). All of the sudden there are dozens (if not hundreds) of associations, organizations, authorities; they stamp your project with some kind of a “green system” rating and oblige you to obtain weird titles of an expert / specialist in a “green design”. The powerful bureaucratic empire has been created within last 5 -10 yrs forcing architects, designers, planners, developers to follow it’s authoritarian rules and to pay millions of dollars in membership fees.

Any constructive criticism is censored. Green design critique has become a taboo.

Carbuncle Cup to the Strata, London is a real breakthrough through this wall of silence around the ugliness of prominent green projects. The very fact that the flagship of a “green design” movement was allowed to be publically condemned on a large scale means we are not completely lost in our aesthetical orientation. Common sense has prevailed today. All of the sudden we all realized: “The king is naked.”

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P.S. All this reminds me a history of the communism. As a Utopian concept “communism” is a great thing, worth to struggle for. Yet we all know how this struggle ended up in the 20th century…

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Comments
5 Responses to “The ugliest in UK or so much for “green” design.”
  1. bryanP says:

    Agreed with the majority of what you said until you compared green design with communism. I understand your issues with the bureaucratic parties and their authority over the architectural community, but green design is a responsibility. Maybe a lot of critics and developers are glorifying sustainability to the point of automatic praise for any building that even claims sustainability, but everyone else is not. Look around at blogs and you will see the criticism of starchitects.

    Architecture needs to stop being about highly romantic and erudite concept descriptions, and more about the performance, whether socially, economically, ecologically, aesthetically or all of the above.

  2. Albert says:

    Well, let’s call “communism” an artistic metaphor. Just to emphasize the emotional side.
    Can’t architecture be both: romantic / erudite & performance-wise responsible?

  3. maria says:

    i like your gut to say all these criticisms. you nailed it. you’re able to make great caricatures of those that bring non-sense to architecture. i’m always looking forward to your blog entries. you pinned the right words.

  4. Colleen says:

    the “Philishave” cracked me up

    bravo!

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