‘What else can you do but say “it’s completely disgusting”?’: Britain’s worst new buildings, with Charlie Baker and the Carbuncle Cup

The Carbuncle Cup returns after a six-year hiatus. Competition judge and magazine editor Charlie Baker speaks to James Fisher about why pointing out bad architecture matters.

Country Life has long been in the business of celebrating fine houses, places and architecture. Arguably, it is what we are most famous for. But sometimes it’s important to go the other way, to look at buildings that are bad, and wonder who built them and why.

While there are many prizes for good buildings, there is only one prize for those that inspire derision. It’s called the Carbuncle Cup, so named after a comment by the then Prince of Wales, Charles III, who described a proposed extension of the National Gallery as a ‘monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend’. I think it’s safe to say that the now King didn’t care for the building much.

From 2006 to 2018, the award was administered by the magazine Building Design. Famous past winners include the Strata SE1, in London’s Elephant and Castle, the Walkie Talkie in the City of London, and MediaCityUK in Manchester. After a brief hiatus, the award was re-started this year by The Fence magazine, the editor of which, Charlie Baker, joined me on the podcast to discuss this year’s awards. 

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The architectural environment is all around us and it’s something that we all participate in, whether we wish to or not. That’s what makes good buildings so great and it’s why the Carbuncle Cup is more than just a little laugh. We need buildings; to live in, to work in, to have fun in and when hideous and thoughtless developments are thrust upon us, we have the right to say: ‘no, we don’t like these very much’.

The winner of the 2024 Carbuncle Cup: The Lime Street development in Liverpool. Credit: Radharc Images/Alamy

So, Charlie and I go through the shortlist of buildings and, indeed, the winner. From a residential development in Greenwich so galling the council wants it demolished, to a hotel in Glasgow that looks a bit like the poo emoji, we discuss the worst buildings built since 2018. The eventual winner, the redevelopment of Liverpool Lime Street, attracts the most scorn — to find out why, just take a listen.

The Fence is also celebrating its fifth birthday very soon, so Charlie and I discuss the inspiration behind this quarterly print title, some of the best articles he’s published, and why print journalism is still so important.