Woolwich Tesco up for bad architecture’s Carbuncle Cup

Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

The development containing Woolwich’s giant Tesco store has been nominated for the Carbuncle Cup, architecture’s prize for the UK’s worst new building. The whole block has been developed by Spenhill, a subsidiary of the retail giant.

Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

The store, which opened in November 2012, and its associated Woolwich Central housing development have been shortlisted for the prize by architects’ trade journal Building Design.

BD’s Ike Ijeh writes:

Woolwich might have thought that its days as a military outpost were over. Wrong. Somehow what looks like the world’s largest shooting range gained planning permission right in the middle of the town centre, presumably after masquerading as housing above a Tesco supermarket.

Camouflage comes in the way of some truly diabolical cladding and a massing strategy that seems to have been directly inspired by the 1948 Berlin Blockade; we can only hope that residential leases come with free airlift. Tesco may be the world’s third largest retailer but clearly when it comes to this untactical offensive, every little hurts.

Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

“If you approach it from Angelsea Road, it towers above the pub and small shops on Woolwich New Road – this isn’t a development that’s going to be held in much affection outside the town hall and Tesco HQ. Look out for it in next year’s Carbuncle Cup,” I wrote when the store opened 19 months ago.

Greenwich Council were enthusiastic backers of the store when it opened – the authority gained a new civic HQ and library out of the move – yet it’s unclear whether the store has been the shot in the arm that Woolwich town centre needed. Many of the other retail units in the development remain unlet.

Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer announced plans to close its store there.

Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

It’s not the first time the award’s judges have condemned a Greenwich borough development – 2012’s award went to the “disastrously conceived restoration” of the Cutty Sark.

Last year’s prize went to a student block on Caledonian Road, Islington, which features windows facing onto a brick wall. 2010’s award went to the Strata tower at Elephant and Castle, blasted for its “Philishave stylings”.

20 comments

  1. fromthemurkydepths

    I’ve said quite a bit about this building – Christ it’s awful. Facing onto the square it isn’t too bad but the side is so out of scale it’s beyond belief, and then that cladding. I think it might be a shoe in for worst building based on other nominations so far. How embarrassing for Greenwich that must be, and damning too. And completely justified.

    Though the front is best, it was supposed to have a very tall tower in front on that patch of grass, which would be clad in the same 10 shades of dreariness seen on the side. It would’ve been an abomination and although it didn’t go ahead in stage one I wonder whether there is still a chance tesco may go for it in future. If so Greenwich MUST engage in early talks before a planning application and insist on something else.

    Greenwich council can spend huge amounts of time on plans for improvements, have dozens of meetings with various bodies to secure support and funding for various projects, secure millions for various things, but if they allow such dross then it’s pretty much for nothing. It diminishies other good things – it’s what lingers in peoples minds. It what is reported in the press and what molds the image of the town.

  2. roytindle

    Why not rename it the Roberts Memorial Building, then, as memories fade, a quick trip to Woolwich will restore those feelings of outrage, of pointlessness. I was at a meeting in a room at the top of the building, a few days ago. The view from there is no better; the angles below, disorientate and I noticed that an overhead projector is set at a strange angle as the wall with the screen is not at 90 degrees to those containing it.

    It fits in with General Gordon Square, bleak, charmless and reminiscent of land between the elements of the Berlin Wall. A place to die, not to live. Now, all we need is a statue of the great man!

  3. Deptford Dame

    I only recently experienced the full horror of this monstrosity in the flesh, and I have to say I was speechless for about 20 minutes as I walked the circumference of the site and viewed it from every angle. I think the view from the back, with heaps of rubble and the undeveloped land in the foreground, was the most forgiving.

    Quite apart from the sheer size of it, the enormous illuminated Tesco logo which looms over the public square at night should be enough to bring down shame on the heads of all those councillors and council officers who let this be built.

  4. Larry Poulton

    Architecture, like art is subjective…I suppose. I am an artist and I could probably justify just about anything I wanted too. Luckily I don’t abuse that power, unlike the designers of Tescos. Avid WW2 amateur historian that I am, it reminds me of the Flak Towers with protected Berlin during WW2. Google them and see what you think. So, the recent alluding of the Royal Arsenal Wall to the Berlin wall seem apt to me. Perhaps the council has some master plan in mind? Personally i find the design massively overbearing the Woolwich townscape. Rather than blend in and become a part of the community and sit side by side with existing architecture, it dominates the skyline.

    The marketing slogan of “Above all – Woolwich Central” sounds to me like some divisive “I am better that you” rubbish. I applaud Tescos for housing several hundred potent customers above its store. Pure genus. And to own the company that builds the properties – more pure genius. Greed knows no bounds….

  5. EssKay

    This is just the latest in a long line of planning fails from Greenwich Council- a council so hellbent on development at all costs and “fostering commercial relationships” with its cronies that it routinely rides roughshod over the concerns of local residents (e.g. IKEA), expert advice that it doesn’t like (e.g Silvertown tunnel) and even accepted town planning convention/common sense (see pretty much any article from http://fromthemurkydepths.wordpress.com)

    One can only hope, however slim the chance, that two carbuncle awards in 3 years might be too embarrassing for even Greenwich council to ignore…

  6. roytindle

    EssKay, whatever that means, you are right, of course, to point to the worrying relationships that Greenwich has grown into with developers: Berkeley Homes and LXB are two instances. However, you link to your own blog in which you claim the the demolition of Morris Walk Estate is a good thing. Do you really believe that the loss of 1,000 odd social housing units and their replacement primarily with comparatively high cost private housing is good? If so, which planet do you inhabit?

  7. fromthemurkydepths

    Roy – that’s my blog not Esskay’s. I said the redevelopment of Morris Walk is a good thing architecturally as the existing estate is poor, but that the reduction of rented homes from Morris Walk is a bad thing and the rebuild needs more homes that are genuinely affordable, and not under the official ‘affordable’ label which is still way too expensive. I’ve wrote many times about the many flaws in recent UK housing, the loss of social rented homes, the urgent need for more public building, the ridiculous prices of housing and much more on regeneration schemes.

  8. fromthemurkydepths

    Also Roy – Why exactly is it about General Gordon Square that makes it ‘bleak, charmless and reminiscent of land between the elements of the Berlin Wall’? It’s far better than what was there before, looks very good and seems to be enjoyed by many, many people. The work opened up the square and looks far smarter.

  9. Plumstead Resident

    The building won’t age well, but I suspect it’s relatively easy to re-clad in the future? For me, the real blot on the landscape are the ring of betting shops that surround the Square. I have a prejudice against betting shops.

    That said I agree with the last post, the Square is miles better than what was there before, which was effectively a giant bus roundabout with with dilapidated water fountains that seemed to always be filled with bubble bath (or something worse!) and dodgy benches. The new Square I think is much nicer due to its pedestrianisation and new grass and water features. I can live with the Tesco Extra sign in the background.

  10. runner500

    I tend to agree with this – I don’t like the building particularly, it’s scale seems totally out of keeping with the rest of the area, but the square is a massive improvement.

  11. roytindle

    Apologies to EssKay, I didn’t read his comment with sufficient care.

    I wonder how architecture can be separated from its primary purpose. It is not, primarily, an art form and the separation of form from purpose lies behind so many mistakes – including the Woolwich Centre. Thus, to state that redevelopment of a housing estate could be good on architectural grounds seems to ignore that the primary function, in this case, is to provide homes.

    Across London, serviceable homes are being demolished in the name of ‘regeneration’ when gentrification is the real aim. I accept that it is currently difficult to get investment in refurbishment but there is a General Election next year so we should be making a strong representation to our present and potential politicians about the destructive and socially unacceptable nature of much ‘regeneration’. Why does this apply to Morris Walk? Externally the estate is untidy, cables festoon buildings, the concrete panels are stained and insulation standards are low. These issues can be resolved without demolition and without the vast unsustainable carbon emission cost that is contained in the embedied energy of construction.

    I know people who live on that estate, people who find the pejorative ‘poor’ both questionable and offensive. There are well maintained homes and a developed community, in some cases family relationships that will be destroyed. Architecturally better is not a standard that should be used: housing should be designed to house people. Ideally it should also look good but that has to be a long way down the list of priorities.

  12. roytindle

    General Gordon Square: as far as I can estimate, the number of people using it has not changed. We have a costly TV screen, evidence of a Council that hadn’t understood the importance of energy conservation and hardly ever watched. We also have an evaporative water feature in an area of Britain that suffers water scarcity. Another brilliant addition. If anyone wants to argue the water scarcity angle, and I’m sure some do, I would suggest reference to Meteorological Office research, particularly on summer rainfall.

  13. Matthew Gough

    I found myself outside woolwich station (due to the utter unreliability of the trains) last sunday afternoon waiting for a bus to lewisham. I remember thinking how much nicer the place felt than the last time I was there, which was pre GGS and the new Tesco. I also remember thinking how striking and impressive the Tesco looks. It may be many things, but it’s not shy!

    Now, I don’t know much about what the area looked like before, but it seems to me that a lot of the negative comments are related to how the new building is different than what it replaced, rather than evaluating the new building on its merits alone. I for one like the bold statement it makes, though fully understand that those living under its shadow may not think the same.

  14. Larry Poulton

    @Matthew G. Its nice to hear an impartial view from a “fresh set of eyes”. I can understand how Tescos might look better than what it replaces – and I can agree as the previous buildings (apart from the PO) were hideous. However, I would have liked something more aesthetically pleasing ands sensitive to its environment to replace them. I can appreciate “bold” but this, to me, seems out to shock and as such fails to add to the character of Woolwich but instead tramples all over it.

  15. EssKay

    @roytindle – I’m a laaaydeeee actually :)

    @matthewgough – YMMV I guess. Personally I think it’s hideous. I agree the new public square is a huge improvement though

  16. Sue

    The TV screen is owned by the BBC, it’s part of their big screens initiative, they are in locations across the UK. The square is really nice now, there’s always people sitting and enjoying it.

  17. Larry Poulton

    @Sue. Its a pity that the designers/landscapers didn’t foresee how popular it was likely to be as a giant TV lounge and lay some hardwearing grass. The current “dust bowl” is most unappealing.

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