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‘Talkie’ Tops UK List of Ugly Designs

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

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A building that has been blamed for melting cars, knocking over people on the ground with its downdrafts and chided with nicknames such as “Walkie Scorchie” is also Britain’s ugliest building.

That news came Sept. 2 from Building Design magazine, which gave 20 Fenchurch Street—best known as the “Walkie Talkie” building—its annual Carbuncle Cup. The magazine gives out its award each year to the structure that’s determined to have U.K.’s worst architecture.

Blower and a Scorcher

Thomas Lane, Building Design’s editor, said the Walkie Talkie received far more nominations than any other building, according to the Daily Mail.

“It was an extremely popular choice, and all the judges unanimously agreed that the Walkie Talkie was the winner,” Lane told the newspaper. “It is very hard to find anybody who actually likes it. There are people, but they are in a minority.”

David Delso/CC BY-SA 4.0

Called "Walkie Talkie" and even "Walkie Scorchie," 20 Fenchurch Street has won Building Design magazine's 2015 Carbuncle Cup, making it the ugliest building in the U.K.

Designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly for developer Land Securities, 20 Fenchurch Street has had its share of problems.

In July, the distinctive curved façade was accused of creating a wind tunnel with gusts strong enough to almost knock over people who were near the building at street level. At the same time, the developers got an order from the City of London Corp. stating that they had to reconfigure the building’s sky garden. The garden was not designed to original specifications, the city said.

But it was in 2013 that the building got its most infamous nickname—along with the blame for melting cars parked near it. At that time, light reflecting off the unfinished building’s curved glass melted part of a Jaguar. Shop owners also said the building melted some of their merchandise, which led to Londoners referring to the building as the “Walkie Scorchie.”

Uglier Than Thee?

Still, 20 Fenchurch Street isn’t the only building that made Building Design magazine’s shortlist for its Carbuncle.

David Martin / CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

The City Gateway made the shortlist of U.K.’s ugliest buildings and was nominated for a 2015 Carbuncle Cup.

Five other buildings also were nominated for the award, according to London Loves Business. Those buildings, according to the magazine, were:

  • Woodward Hall, a student hall complex in North Acton: “Pity the poor students who have to inhabit this monstrosity in a noisy and highly polluted environment, devoid of any outdoor space (unless you count the cemetery next door,” said nominator Jonathan Notley;
  • Parliament House: A 23-story residential building close to the River Thames in Lambeth, which even nominator Robert Shaw said isn’t as bad as Walkie Talkie;
  • Extension to the Waltham Forest YMCA: Just opposite Walthamstow Town Hall, nominator Mike Duriez said, “The relationship with the adjacent historic building is particularly carbuncular”;
  • The City Gateway in Swaythling, Southampton: Nominator Simon Hill said of this building “On to this inept and chaotic assembly of forms is superimposed an eclectic mix of garish colours at the back, with more subdued mixes of beiges, whites and maroon at the front, ‘enlivened’ by splashes of primary colours on the window returns and a spiral variegation to the beiges of the towner which all totally contradict the local setting”; and
  • Whittle Building, Peterhouse, University of Cambridge: Nominator John Simpson pointed out that the university once held well-known British architect Eric Parry as a fellow, yet commissioned the building that is “Part oil sheik’s palace, part home counties accountancy firm headquarters, wholly tasteless, the building’s failures are not just aesthetic.”

What a Carbuncle

According to Dezeen magazine, the Carbuncle Cup award is named after part of a 1984 speech made by Prince Charles, who called a proposed extension to London’s National Gallery a “monstrous carbuncle.”

The 2014 winner was Woolwich Central development, which the magazine calls “oppressive.” Previous winners include what Dezeen called a “prison-like” student housing block and Grimshaw architects’ museum around the Cutty Sark ship.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architectural history; Architecture; Building design; Color + Design; Color + Design; Commercial / Architectural; Commerial/Architectural; Design; Designers; Europe; Modernist architecture

Comment from Thane Katz, (9/9/2015, 10:55 AM)

I'm not sure I'd refer to either building pictured in the article as ugly. Although they are certainly different, at least they made an effort to break out of the boring normality often seen in commercial buildings.

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