Razor sharp carbuncle

Of all the arts architecture is the most inescapable, you can stop reading your novel, never listen to poetry, no-one forces you to go to one of London’s free art galleries, buy a ticket to an opera, the ballet or theatre (if you deprive yourself of any of these in this chaotic and diverse city you really are missing out), but one art form cannot be ignored – architecture. Like it or not we all have a vested interest, with have to live with it, and in it, architecture can either uplift your spirits or irritate you intensely.

I was asked recently by the producer of a BBC documentary about London, “What do you think the best view is of the Gherkin?” As a Londoner it was embarrassing for I could not think from which vista showed the Swiss Re Tower to the best advantage. Thinking about it later I concluded that, although it is a very large building, its shape and proportions allow it to sit perfectly within the City’s landscape. Try it out, for even in St. Mary Axe at the building’s base it retains the impression of having small proportions.

Le Corbusier, the darling on 20th century architecture, once penned: “The house – a machine for living in.” Although strangely most people don’t want to live, or work, in a machine, they seem prefer to inhabit a building which is more intimate. In fact in a poll which asked which was Londoner’s favourite post-war building, it wasn’t the Lloyd’s Building, Shard, Canary Wharf or Centre Point. More popular than any of these was Shakespeare’s Globe, now recreated from the original which first opened in 1599.

Many recent towers are vainglorious tributes to the greater glory of the clients, who commissioned them and their architects, but one sits heads and shoulders above them all for it can be seen in London from wherever you view it – and it’s not a pretty sight. London’s Strata Tower, the world’s first skyscraper with built-in wind turbines, stylised to look like it comes straight out of Gotham City, the perfect place for a hero and a villain to have a rooftop showdown falls into that mould, and if any dwelling was designed as a machine for living in, this is it.

The structure does not sit within the landscape, in fact it seems to scream – look at me – and the exterior is designed so that it is recognisable from miles around. That would be fine is it held some kind of symmetrical beauty like The Shard, but the shape, height and black and silver cladding has destroyed what little of London’s comfortable if jumbled skyline we had left.

Now the building (or should that be machine) has won the ultimate accolade The Carbuncle Cup. Despite fierce competition for the trade publication Building Design least coveted prize, the Strata Building has won this year’s dubious honour. One nominator said “I used to live in south London and moved partly because – and I’m not joking – the Strata tower made me feel ill and I had to see it every day.”

So now the next time a passenger gets in my cab and asks to go to south London I can say to them “Sorry I’m not going south of the River that Strata Tower makes me ill”.

2 thoughts on “Razor sharp carbuncle”

  1. The point is, I think, that these monster buildings do not “fit in”. They stick out – like giant sore thumbs.

    Corporate greed and and a desire to show off unallied to any sense of taste is giving us a generation of monstrous structures that are changing the face and the character of London, turning it into a kind of Dallas-deigned-by-Disney.

    The Gherkin has a pleasant enough shape – or would have if it were a vase or a table lamp – but translated into building-size is it an obtrusive excrescence. The best view of it would be obtained after the setting off of a few well placed charges of Semtex.

    As for the Shard, well, that ought to be classed as a Crime Against Humanity.


    1. There is a new blot on the landscape down at Nine Elms. Embassy Quarter is set to raise – or should that be lower? – the bar in rubbish architecture.


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