Cutty Sark wins award as worst new building in Britain

The heritage horror story of the “restored” Cutty Sark is today officially named as the worst new building in the country.

The architectural trade journal, Building Design, has announced that the historic tea clipper is the 2012 winner of the Carbuncle Cup, the wooden spoon for the dregs of British architecture. Building Design’s jury, which unanimously chose the Cutty Sark for the award, describes it as a “disastrously conceived” scheme, “misdirected… from the start,” whose “myriad failings…tragically defile the very thing it sets out to save.”

The architects, Grimshaw, have taken something delicate and beautiful and surrounded it with a building that looks like a 1980s bus station. Clumsy and ineptly detailed, their new glass greenhouse around the Cutty Sark totally ruins her thrilling lines, obscures much of her exquisite gilding and cynically forces anyone who actually wants to see her to pay their £12 and go inside. The sight of people pressing their faces forlornly against the smoked glass to try to see something of the ship is one of the sadder in London.

Grimshaw have also punched a shopping centre-style glass lift up through the middle of the ship – and put two more lifts in a new square building, the size of a small block of flats, next to and towering over the ship herself. They’ve plonked a glass pod on the open main deck for a staircase (the old housing was wood, but that’s so nineteenth-century). They’ve installed lights on the masts which make it look like a Christmas tree. Above all, of course, they’ve hoicked the ship up on girders, dangling above the dry dock to create an “unparalleled corporate entertaining space” underneath – an act of vandalism that prompted the resignation of the chief engineer, who said it would place the vessel under unacceptable strain and end in its destruction.

In a reflection of quite how witless and dreadful all this is, the shortlist the Cutty Sark beat included that red thrusting thing at the Olympic Park and the “wrist-slashingly awful” Mann Island scheme which desecrates Liverpool’s waterfront. But it’s a worthy winner – and I am glad to have helped publicise the disaster with this piece I wrote for the paper in May.

We must end by naming and humiliating the people involved so careers can be blighted, funders and future clients warned. They are Richard Doughty and Maldwin Drummond, director and chairman of the ship’s owners, the Cutty Sark Trust (whose dishonesty and utter mismanagement of the project I’ve detailed here). By pure coincidence, no doubt, the Trust no longer has an active role in the management of the ship. Then there’s the forty-watt burghers of Greenwich Council, who rescued the flop – with vast sums of taxpayers’ money. In total this fiasco has cost us £50 million (not all of it from Greenwich) – double the initial budget.

Most culpably, perhaps, there is Chris Nash, the Grimshaw partner in charge – who by pure coincidence, no doubt, last week announced that he was leaving the firm, having “reached a stage where I would like to offer my particular combination of skills and experience to a wider group of professionals and work at a smaller scale.” For your next project, Chris, how about a PFI hospital or a McDonald’s drive-thru?