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4 October 2011

The Carbuncle Cup

One of the UK's most controversial Architecture awards, the Carbuncle Cup, run by Building Design magazine has announced its 2011 award winners. The Carbuncle Cup aims at highlighting the very worst that the UK has to offer in the world of Architecture.

This year there have been some real clangers.

Our personal "favourite"  of those named and shamed projects is the Grimshaw designed Newport station. Being from South Wales myself, I did wonder if the Grimshaw team have actually been to Newport. Designing something which in essence looks like female ovaries does seem slightly out of sync with what is a rather rugged town with a strong industrial and maritime history.  I can imagine the local populus struggling to really connect with the design. Using ETFE to create lightwells creates a ghostly view of Newport from within the station. For a place dogged by negative press, making it appear more grey and washed out, doesnt seem like the greatest of ideas.

If Oedipus made train stations... Grimshaw's Newport station

Wales has recently had some very strong design projects such as Percy Thomas' Concert Hall in Cardiff Bay, which is simply gorgeous. A beautiful connection to Wales' industrial heritage, executed in a thoughtful and well considered design.

One of Wales most beautiful pieces of contemporary Architecture.


The next of our favourites is the Liverpool Museum. Architect Kim Nielsen justifies the design by suggesting the relief of the origami inspired  facade relates directly to the relief of the historic Three Graces and their undulating facades. This does just seem like a rather crude way of tying the aesthetics together  - basically saying they are connected beacuse neither of them are flat surfaces. It seems the equivalent of saying a Ferrari and a Fiat Panda are the same because they both have engines. Nielsen also suggests the use of an iconic form as critical to the design. We do question whether the angled rectangle is particularly iconic as you could name a multitude of buildings that utilise very similar forms. It just seems like another generic combination of "quirky polygons" common in contemporary Architecture and I struggle to see the connection to either Liverpool or the local maritime heritage.

A polygon too far?

As interior designers, this type of design can be very frustrating as it begs the question, how do these indulgent Architectural statements actually make for a better gallery or a better station for those left to use them year after year. How does the Architectural design actually help realise successful spaces for people within these projects. In essence it doesn't seem to achieve much more than a confused first impression.

The winner of the Carbuncle Cup and Britains worst piece of Architecture in 2011 was Mediacity in Manchester.

I agree with BD's assessment, having recently visited the site. It is very cold, lacking in human scale elements you can connect with and feels like a ghost town when you walk around. The buildings are a real mismatch and as BD state feel like a "sample library has exploded." I am a big fan of cities and I consider myself well travelled. One of my favourite ways of judging a city is to ask myself if I would want to go back to to it in the future? With MediaCity, I think the answer is a resounding no. Considering the development is supposed to house creative minded people, I can't imagine that anyone truly creative, rather than corporate, would see this as a stimulating environment. Just being next to the BBC doesn't make you have better ideas.

Having looked for somewhere to eat lunch, we ended up at a restaurant next to the lovely Lowry Gallery. Equally I cant think of any other city I would struggle to find lunch at.

Well done to BD for being brave enough to put such a massive development as the award winner. It is not that MediaCity is a truly bad design, it isn't. Some of the buildings work well when viewed in isolation. It is just a missed opportunity for the area as a whole.

We would suggest any creatives / businesses looking for space in Salford check out the ongoing developments at the Soapworks, just down the road from MediaCity. From what we have heard and seen, it will be considerably cheaper than MediaCity and looks  like it will be way more inspiring! It is shaping up to be an awesome project and if we wanted creative space in the Manchester area, this would be at the top of our list. 

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