Carbuncle Cup: this ignominious accolade is as relevant as ever

As an architecture firm, winning a design award is always welcome – unless it's the Carbuncle Cup. The annual award is now in its eleventh year, and, as the latest winners demonstrate, is as relevant as ever.

Run by the Building Design magazine, the award seeks out "the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months".

In the Dock

2016's Carbuncle Cup winner is a 31-storey luxury residential tower in London’s Docklands. Lincoln Plaza near Canary Wharf was labelled "jarring, unsettling and shambolic" by the jury.

Critics further described it as a "brain-numbing jumble of discordant shapes, patterns, materials and colours".

Lincoln Plaza joins a number of previous high-rise winners, including Strata SE1 (2010) and last year's Walkie Talkie tower, both in London. The Walkie Talkie, 2015’s winner has attracted substantial criticism for melting cars and generating powerful downdrafts as well as being labelled a Bond villain tower. It was designed by Rafael Vinoly, who has a strong local architectural connection to Colchester, being behind the design for Firstsite, a visual arts centre in the heart of Colchester. wrapped in golden metal.​

Diamond in the Rough?

The Carbuncle Cup also-rans make for fascinating perusal, too. A Sheffield University engineering block had, said BD, an "unsettling similarity to a hydroelectric plant", named – ironically in hindsight – 'The Diamond'.

UBS Bank’s new City HQ also made the shortlist. 5 Broadgate was heavily criticised by BD magazine’s readers, having been likened to a "mute steel fortress" and "a flak tower that gives nothing back to the city".

The Poole Methodist Church extension also won the dubious right to be called a Carbuncle Cup runner-up. This "unimaginative grey box" was of particular interest to us here at Inkpen Downie, since we have had the pleasure of working on so many historic and church buildings, such as Our Lady & St George, Walthamstow and Clare Priory, Clare, Suffolk. Indeed, Clare Priory won Inkpen Downie the RICS 2015 East of England Building Conservation Winner & Project of the Year.

Marrying the benefits of modern architectural approaches with buildings that are often hundreds of years old is no easy task. But as InkPen Downie's work on the Clare Priory extension showed, it is possible to deliver an unobtrusive complementary structure that meets modern space requirements without being strident.

The RICS award for Clare Priory is an example of how architectural accolades can promote and support great design. Entering architectural competitions also acts to strengthen company culture and reinforces good practice – so crucial to creating great buildings. 

Conversely, the Carbuncle Cup serves to remind us that there is no place to hide for unsatisfactory architecture, and as such, this ignominious accolade is as relevant as ever.

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