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Why we need a Carbon-cle Cup Award for Unsustainable Design

RIBA has announced that all its prizes will now be sustainable. We are going to need a counterpoint.

Prince Charles once trashed and killed a major modern building addition in London by calling it a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend.” In 2006, Building Design Magazine launched the Carbuncle Cup prize, honouring “the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months” as a “humorous” response to the Stirling Prize.

Now the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has just announced that all entries for their awards (which include the Stirling Prize) have to be “environmentally sustainable.” You don't even get considered for the shortlist if you are not.

Chair of the RIBA awards group, Jo Bacon of Allies and Morrison, says: ‘Environmental performance is no longer detached from architecture. A lot of Stirling shortlisted schemes had good sustainability metrics… We want people to demonstrate the strength of their environmental credentials. If they are not there we need to be able not to shortlist them for the highest level of awards.’

Just as the Stirling Prize got its humorous response with the Carbuncle Cup, and now that RIBA is honouring sustainable design, a new humorous response is needed to “celebrate” unsustainability. When I wrote a post last year suggesting that the AIA awards be dumped, Keep the AIA/COTEs, but it's time to scrap the AIA Awards, architect Elrond Burrell commented:

“Perhaps a Carbon-cle Cup for the unsustainable winners!”

He is right. Someone has to point out the most unsustainable buildings, now that they can't even be shortlisted for a Stirling. And because we want to nip these in the bud, unbuilt but proposed buildings should be eligible for the Carbon-cle Cup. And where the Carbuncle Cup is limited to the UK, this could be world-wide.

Tulip from the river© Foster + Partners

I would have the actual award modelled on Norman Foster's Tulip Tower, which is perhaps the poster child of unsustainable building, basically a glass restaurant on a stick. I wrote earlier:

Foster, who famously was asked by Bucky Fuller, “How much does your building weigh?”, doesn't tell us how much this tulip-shaped tourist trap weighs, or what the Upfront Carbon Emissions are. Given its function, namely building a very tall elevator with a building on top, I suspect that the UCE are really high and really pointless.

It gets extra points because the architect is a signatory to Architects Declare.

Union Carbide buildingUnion Carbide building via Fortune Magazine/via

Another nominee might be 270 Park Avenue, designed by, you guessed it, Foster + Partners, which is being built on the site of a classic modernist building designed by Natalie de Blois of SOM, 2.4 million square feet of building that was renovated to LEED platinum less a decade ago. It's being demolished so that it can be replaced by Foster's slightly bigger building that you can see here on YIMBY for a company that prides itself on its sustainability.

Architect and Passivhaus provocateur Bronwyn Barry thinks the AIA should follow RIBA with its awards.

We agree, just to prevent the embarrassment of an AIA award winner also winning a Carbon-cle Cup at the same time.

RIBA has announced that all its prizes will now be sustainable. We are going to need a counterpoint.