Cutty Carbuncle

Thank you to everyone who sent me the link to Andrew Gilligan’s column about the Cutty Sark winning Building Design Magazine‘s coveted Carbuncle Cup for this year’s Worst New Building in Britain, beating off stiff competition from the ArcelorMittal Orbit (a construction even its designer hates) and the Titanic Museum in Belfast.

They point to the ghastly glass lifts and viewing pods ‘punched’ through the hull, the still-worrying decision to raise the ship on stilts so they can put a corporate function suite below and the bog-awful lift-tower outside, none of which I can argue with.

There’s no doubting that this has ended up as a Disney version of the old ship and it is a bit of a shock if you’re not expecting it.

There are myriad ways that they could have done it better.

Call me old fashioned but frankly I’ve always thought that just restoring her as best as possible to what she would have looked like when she was launched, without all the clumsy modern parapehnalia (especially in that lift tower – I find it hard to imagine how anyone could make glass look clumsy but somehow they’ve managed it…) I’ve not visited the SS Great Britain’s restoration yet, but that’s the sort of thing I was hoping to see on the Cutty Sark (and that was in a much worse condition – my Dad, when he was a kid, lived down the road from the bloke who cut a massive hole in the iron hold so he could use it as a sheep-pen and they’ve even managed to deal with that).

But in some respects I’m just glad to have her back – after that fire (a criminal piece of negligence on the part of  someone, who doesn’t appear to have ever been even ticked off) I honestly thought she’d just be carted away, like the Gipsy Moth – the other ship we couldn’t be trusted to look after. She may not last long on those stilts but we do have her for a little while yet.

I have to disagree with Gilligan on one thing though – call me a silly, shallow, fluffy Phantom but I adore those fairy lights; they make me smile every time I see her all lit up. And however much I hate the idea of her being hoisted up on poles, this view is rather good:


the attachments to this post:

Cutty Hull
Cutty Hull

pirate up the cutty sark
pirate up the cutty sark

cutty cupcake
cutty cupcake

Cutty Sark Caff
Cutty Sark Caff

22 Comments to “Cutty Carbuncle”

  1. Richard says:

    I think the restoration makes the ship very accessable as a musuem, my kids love going. I also like the way you can catch glimpses of the mast from all over Greenwich. Takes all sorts I guess.

  2. Paul says:

    It is a scandal – as much with the deluge of money thrown at at, 50 million pounds, as with the final result. Who are those contractors and where did the money go?

    The glass wave is the main problem – it obscures the very lines of the ship it was supposed to complement. Yet, personally, I think there’s some compensation in the way the ship is lifted up – you get views of it from different, new locations, which is a real improvement.

    It’s the nasty chain restaurants, red plastic logos, and accumulated advertising hoardings and signs which really cheapen the area for me.

  3. Otter says:

    Haven’t read Gilligan, but have read the original report in BDonline which is well worth the time. The comments are worth a look too; the critics of the scheme tend to be quite cogent, the defenders nearly all just insulting the critics.

    The critics are right, of course.

  4. Mr Dinsdale says:

    Has Mr Gilligan ever written anything positive about Greenwich? In his position, Mr Gilligan could get so many issues that matter out to everyone – swimming pool mess, Greenwich Hospital pushing through plans nobody wants. Instead he should have a competing website to this one – Greenwich Grinch.

  5. Franklin says:

    The Cutty Sark could have been made “accesible as a museum” without obscuring and destroying her lines or building a hideous access tower next to her.

    Paul’s right: as I’ve said many times, the main problem is the overly heavy frame of the greenhouse canopy which rises well above the Cutty Sark’s waterline and flares up to envelope her bow and stern – making it look like she’s been plonked on to a haemorrhoid pillow, as one commenter on the BD site said.

    The original undulating waterline design was elegant. It amplified, rather than obsuring, the beauty of her lines.

    I hold out the no-doubt delusional hope that one day in the not-too-distant future we might see the existing greenhouse replaced with something closer to the original proposals – and the access tower demolished. How does one become the Chairman of the Cutty Sark Trust, I wonder?

    Finally, the Trust and the Council share equal responsibility for this travesty. The Council should not have allowed itself to have been bullied into granting retrospective planning permission – submitted only AFTER the greenhouse was under construction – and should have insisted that the original design was stuck to, whatever impact that might have had on the Trust’s corporate entertainment revenues.

  6. Jim says:

    How are the disabled supposed to get in without that ‘travesty’ of an access tower, though? Personally, I don’t think the ‘greenhouse’ works well from outside, but view from the bottom of the old dry dock, looking up at the hull, is magnificent. The ‘new’ Cutty Sark was never going to please everyone, but I think that, on balance, they’ve done a good job and I think most of the things people seem to regard as compromises/mistakes/utter abominations were probably necessary to keep the thing going as a viable commercial proposition. I do think it’s sad that the ship simply and accurately restored to its pomp wasn’t deemed sufficiently interesting to keep it ‘afloat’, as it were, but then I don’t have the problem of trying to fund an enormously expensive museum piece. I’d rather have her restored, accessible and (presumably) profitable for the foreseeable future than gradually falling into ruin.

  7. Franklin says:

    Framing it as a stark choice between what we’ve got and the Cutty Sark “gradually falling into ruin” is deeply misleading. That’s a favourite trick of developers, but there’s a whole lot of “what could/should have been” in between.

    And the Cutty Sark isn’t a business, it’s an important part of our naval heritage. So the “commercially viability” test has to be much broader in scope than just how much branded tourist tat it sells and how many corporate dinners it hosts.

  8. Ian says:

    I like it. The view from underneath is fantastic and gives a really original perspective that differentiates the Cutty Sark from many other dry-docked ships loitering around London. It encourages you to actually visit the ship rather than wander past idly on a daily basis, as I used to do before the restoration. I don’t have an issue with the lift’s aesthetics and clearly it was necessary to allow access for all, and if the future of the Cutty Sark is safeguarded by hosting the odd corporate entertaining event then I really don’t see anything to complain about. If you don’t like overpriced tat, gift shops and chain restaurants that you consider to be beneath you, don’t purchase their wares and take a packed lunch!

  9. 16" East says:

    It’s not perfect but I do like it too. I simply can’t believe that The Orbit didn’t win this competition. The Orbit is ok when lit up at night but a hideous red mesh metal in the daylight. No comparison to the imperfect but still stunning Cutty Sark.

  10. Nick says:

    I think that people may be forgetting what was there before. At least there’s something there to educate the masses now. When I visited the Cutty Sark when I was a lad, half the people looking round it didn’t realise that it was a commercial vessel – many of them thought it was a navy ship engaged in war-like activities !

  11. tintinhaddock says:

    Walking down King William Walk your eye is drawn away from the ship and onto that lump of a lift. The re-coppered hull aside, for anyone who cares about aesthetics it is an utter failure.

  12. Jules says:

    The award says it all, but it’s a shame no-one is brave enough to own up to the real sum this piece of desperate vandalism actually cost the tax/lottery payer. 50 million ?? And the rest ! Add another 20 million and you get nearer the mark but everyone culpable has quietly slipped away or been promoted.

  13. Gordon of Greenwich says:

    I think it’s great and I have not met anyone over on this side of Greenwich(East)that doesn’t like it. All my family and friends that have seen it/visited also think it’s great. Is there anything else like it in the world?

  14. Dave says:

    I know people who think McDonalds is great , that doesn’t make them right

  15. Nelson's Left Eye says:

    It’s called an opinion, Dave.

    You may not agree but other people’s opinions are just as valid as yours.

  16. James says:

    Wow I am disagreeing with the Phantom here but I also like what they have done with it.

    As I understand it, the ship needs the structure to survive as it hasn’t got the support of water.

    Further, as for the lifts etc, well, unfortunately we cannot all fly or walk through walls, we need stairs, lifts and doors.

    Personally I have been ignoring Gilligan for years – some people are just paid to be grumpy. The Greenwich Grinch sounds very apt.


  17. Richard says:

    It’s called an opinion, Dave.

    You may not agree but other people’s opinions are just as valid as yours.

    And thats why ‘prizes’ like this are irrelevant. What makes good architecture like food, wine, literature and football is subjective.

  18. Franklin says:

    Prizes like this are far from ‘irrelevant’: they draw attention to their winners. Ask any winner of the Orange Prize or the Decanter World Wine Awards whether they’re ‘irrelevant’.

    This prize has drawn much-needed attention to the poor design of the greenhouse and access tower: it was the most read story on the BBC News website on Friday, thus bringing to the attention of the nation what is rightly a national (rather than local) scandal.

  19. Richard says:

    So the winners of prizes decide if they are relevant? No its subjective and as such there are no right or wrong answers. Indeed if the judging panel were replaced for many of these prizes there would be completely different winners.

  20. Paul says:

    Thanks Richard for that insight.

    You can dismiss Gilligan as a grump, but he’s dug up a lot of information that people would have liked kept quiet, including the fact that if they’d had the Cutty Sark restored by a specialist boat builder, the price tag would have been a 10th of the £50 million that this has taken.

    And then, having spent all that money, they pleaded poverty, hence the compromised glass and lift!

  21. Kirsten says:

    I recently visited Greenwich and have must say I agree – now Cutty Sark is not for everyone to enjoy – and it’s ironic that the surrounding area is much nicer now with the flowers and all, but it’s just not fun sitting watching the ship anymore….

  22. Robin says:

    My overall feeling is that I am
    happy to see the mast and rigging towering over Greenwich – so much so that I can almost forgive it all the faults with the design etc. Remember when it (she?) was on fire? I thought it would be gone forever.

    But no, it’s not pretty and I was dissapointed with the inside too. When I first moved to Greenwich I visited the Cutty Sark and loved the feeling of being on a real, old ship – it fired my imagination. Now, it’s like being inside an underwhelming museum.

    The Nando’s and Zizzis buildings are worse eyesores, in my opinion.