The Carbuncle Cup is not your standard competition; launched in 2006 by Building Design (BD) magazine, the tongue-in-cheek competition is designed to contrast the prestigious Stirling Prize and highlight those buildings believed to have somewhat failed in regards to design and aesthetics. It’s a competition that nobody wants to win, yet somebody has to.

This year’s reluctant winner has now been announced as PLP Architecture, who have been awarded the title for their work on the Nova Victoria development in London. The development itself occupies a full city block in the Victoria district of Westminster and is comprised of two office buildings designed by PLP Architecture and a residential building designed by Benson & Forsyth. The two office towers, Nova North and Nova South, reach 12 and 16 storeys high respectively and contain 480,000sq ft of office space. However, if the decision of the Carbuncle Cup judges is anything to go by, the development’s £380m price tag may have been squandered by poor design.

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The developers describe the development as “distinct and architecturally daring”, and assert that “together, [Nova North and Nova South] create a new landmark business address in London.”

The Carbuncle Cup’s panel of judges, which this year includes BD editor Thomas Lane, Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft, Urbed director and chair of the Academy of Urbanism David Rudlin, and BD assistant editor Elizabeth Hopkirk, strongly disagree with the aforementioned assessment.

The judges describe the Nova Victoria development in less-than-flattering terms, with Twentieth Century Society’s Catherine Croft stating, “Nova should have been good as it’s a prestige site. It makes me want to cringe physically. It’s a crass assault on all your senses from the moment you leave the Tube station.”

Urbed director David Rudlin cited concerns over the building’s triangular forms and excess of zig-zagging fins, commenting that “there’s no variety and you can’t read the floors.” His main issue with the building’s design however is the bright red, cathedral-like spire. He said, “It’s got the same proportions as Salisbury Cathedral. For me the spire gives it carbuncular status – otherwise it’s just a bad building.”

Meanwhile, BD editor Thomas Lane poured a bevy of criticism upon the development. He asserts that, “The architect appears to have been inspired by the fractured, angular shapes beloved of star architects like Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind and applied these to a run-of-the-mill spec office development.

“The result is two large blocks sliced and diced to create to create a series of angular volumes drunkenly leaning on each other. These volumes are clad with a medley of oversized vertical fins that zig-zag up the façade to give each elevation a headache-inducing moiré pattern when viewed from the side.”

While it may seem unjust to dole out criticism for criticism’s sake, the Carbuncle Cup arguably plays an important role in the architecture and design industry, highlighting those features which, in hindsight, are largely undesired by the general populace. By paying attention to the factors which contribute to the appearance of particular buildings on each year’s shortlist, those responsible for the creation of the next generation of workspaces can hopefully refine their practices and create appealing spaces with pleasing aesthetic touches.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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