Blot on the landscape

An email recently prompted me to re-examine a post I had written nearly 8 years ago. Titled Hidden London . . . and The Ugly was a random selection of ugly places to be found in the Capital. Since that time there have been many contenders for London’s ugliest, now there even is an annual award – The Carbuncle Cup. So let me suggest a a few of the leaders of London’s most ugly in a very closely fought contest.


Voted Britain’s ugliest new building by Building Design Magazine and receiving the 2010 Carbuncle Cup is the 43-storey Strata tower at the Elephant and Castle. The designers genius here is to give everyone a glimpse of this monstrosity and not confine to the good people of south London. They might be demolishing the unlamented Heygate Estate nearby, but have given us this distinctive outline visible from much of London. It’s also a perfect example of the class divide we now find in London. At the Strata are lifts segregating the residents ‘affordable’ flats use one lift while ‘executive’ apartment owners another. But they all share its three wind turbines fitted to the roofline which nobody has ever seen working.


The true proponent of terrible architecture realises that you need, not only produce an ugly building, but locate in an area where it causes the most offence. Parliament House apartment building on Black Prince Road achieves these fine objectives. Looking like four architectural practices have stacked their creations upon each other, it is thoughtfully located close to the sublime Victorian Lambeth Dalton factory.


To achieve true accolades a building needs to be both ugly and useless. Famed artist Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit looks like a tangle of junk you pulled out of a drawer in your garage. At 376-foot-tall this sculptural observation point can cause offence two miles away, and so underused is it, a slide has been constructed inside its ironwork. At least when you’re sliding down you can’t see the red monstrosity.


Described by the architect, Piers Gough, as “Loftish”, Bankside Central in Southwark Street proves you don’t have to build high to cause offence. This drastic conversion of a tea warehouse was achieved by adding two floors to the original Victorian industrial building. Sited at the junction with Great Guildford Street it had for years an image of a man’s back with one arm outstretched, his face obscured presumably as he hit his head against the glass at seeing this hotchpotch of a building for the first time.

Building on Corner of Lambeth High Street by Danny P. Robinson (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Bankside Central by Robert Mackie (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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