8 of the Ugliest, Most Hated Buildings in London
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that’s because in the Ancient World they didn’t have to deal with concrete carbuncles on their way to work.
Some of London’s most hated buildings have been the subjects of derision and mockery for years but it’s around Halloween when we feel most comfortable speaking about them. Sure, we could just dress up in our costumes and leave these buildings (and architects) alone. And sure, maybe we could even dress up as some of these buildings (who said that?). But when you can do both, why limit yourself?
We are aware that, like any art form, architecture is pretty subjective, and this can lead to strong opinions and critics, especially if you have to see them every day. However, architecture is not only art, and function without its form is, to the British, like a fish without its chips – no, thank you. Architecture has to have both.
London is home to several overblown monuments to architectural egoism but we’ve only picked eight of them for this list. However, we’d like to know your personal opinion too so if we’ve missed some of your (truly horrible) favourites, please let us know in the comments below.
Ready to find out about the biggest eyesores in London?
1. Strata SE1
Strata Tower, also affectionately known as ‘The Razor’, is the first contemporary building around Elephant & Castle in years. After the Tate Modern was completed in 2000, further architectural efforts were made to regenerate the impoverished boroughs of the south. In 2006, Palestra (Alsop Architects) spooked its Southwark neighbours and to continue the eyesore trend, Strata Tower opened its doors in 2010.
Why is this tower so weird? Is it the scale? 148-metre (486 ft) and 43 storeys. Is it the oddly patterned white cladding of the façade? Or maybe it’s the three massive wind turbines topping the hideous residential tower? By the way, they didn’t last much in use. Whatever it is, the tower was awarded the 2010 Carbuncle Cup.
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Location: 1908, 8 Walworth Rd, London SE1 6EG (Google)
Nearest Tube: Elephant & Castle
2. 1 Poultry
James Stirling, 1997
What is ironic about this ode to architectural egoism is that the Carbuncle Cup – probably the least illustrious prize for architects – was created in response to RIBA’s prestigious Stirling Prize. Stirling being James Stirling, the architect of this building. In fairness, the site was already difficult. Several proposals (including a Mies van der Rohe tower) were considered to replace a much loved Victorian building by John Belcher but Prince Charles, famous for his opinionated remarks in the field of architecture, wasn’t very fond of them.
In 1994 construction started of what later became one of London’s ugliest additions. The problem? 1 Poultry is squeezed between two of the busiest streets in the City. The unsubtle forms, clad in pink and yellow limestone, have ensured that it’s seen by everyone. But it doesn’t stop there, the interior wedge-shaped atrium displays some of Stirling's characteristic acidulous colour play. Angry Londoners couldn’t take it anymore and in 2016 the word demolition came into conversation. The result? It received government recognition with a listing at grade II, making it the youngest listed building in England 😱
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Location: 1 Poultry, London EC2R 8EJ (Google)
Nearest Tube: Bank
3. Balfron Tower
Ernö Goldfinger, 1967
If dogs resemble their owners, architects really do look like their buildings too. Ernö Goldfinger, a despicable man famous for routinely firing recruits on their first day and behaving appallingly towards women, left much of his personality traits in his buildings. Goldfinger designed tall, cold and imposing structures that were responsible for crime, suicide and eventual gentrification.
Why Balfron Tower amongst all his buildings? Because the guy had the nerve to move in for a bit with his family (to experience first hand the ups and downs of his design) and when things went downwards, he moved out to his private home in Hampstead. Karma played its part worry not. Ian Flemming, a neighbour of his who happened to be writing the James Bond series, named one of his villains Goldfinger. When the architect threatened to sue him, he offered to change it for Goldprick 😂
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Location: St Leonards Road, E14 0QT (Google)
Nearest Tube: All Saints (DLR)
4. 20 Fenchurch Street (The Walkie Talkie)
Rafael Viñoly, 2014
Unfortunately, many buildings in London suffer from a big-head disease – literally. However, it wasn’t quite noticed until the Walkie Talkie made it so obvious that Londoners started seeing a pattern in the city: 102 Petty France (also in this list), One Blackfriars and 20 Fenchurch Street oddly grow bigger as they become taller.
The Walkie Talkie was designed with a goal in mind: make money out of extortionate rent rates. Note: This is normal in London. Which leads us to the next point, which are the most profitable floors in a building? The top ones. Proposed solution then? Let’s make them as big as possible. If we’ve learnt a thing or two about our ancestors, is that their buildings worked along gravity, hence the floor area decreases with height (Reference: The Pyramids of Giza). Any construction that contradicts this dogma looks ugly.
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Location: 20 Fenchurch St, EC3M (Google)
Nearest Tube: Monument
Terry Farrell, 1994
The 90’s were a difficult period for London because (to be honest): MI6. Ok, ok, ok – we hear you say – the purpose of the building was to serve the Secret Intelligence Service, it couldn’t be aesthetic by principle. Yes, in a way it had to be confusing (has anybody ever seen a door?) and imposing, but was it necessary for it to be that ugly? On the other hand, MI6 has been a key location for the James Bond movies. The building was first featured in GoldenEye in 1995 and has continued to be the centrepiece of the plot. Sure, that can leverage its monstrous appearance a bit. Unless, you know, you’re against James Bond for everything it represents, making you loathe this building even more.
Back to the point: MI6 headquarters in London is not only despised by everybody who commutes through Vauxhall every morning. Apparently, when a special premiere of Skyfall was held for the MI6 staff, they cheered when their headquarters was destroyed in the film.
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Location: 85 Albert Embankment, SE1 7TP (Google)
Nearest Tube: Vauxhall
6. 102 Petty France
Basil Spence and Fitzroy Robinson & Partners, 1976
We actually love this building. 102 Petty France was one of the first post-war concrete structures built for the government. At that time, the Barbican and other residential structures were under construction.
This building, formerly known as the UK Home Office, houses the Ministry of Justice. What is so interesting about it is that Nineteen Eighty-Four, also known as 1984, was inspired by this new type of architecture being erected. Though the movie’s Ministry of Truth was actually located at London’s Senate House (Charles Holden, 1937), 102 Petty France made quite an impression on its citizens.
Going back to beauty and aesthetics… pretty buildings don’t have big heads.
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Location: 102 Petty France, SW1H 9AJ (Google)
Nearest Tube: St James’s Park
7. London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre
Daniel Libeskind, 2004
Engaging Daniel Libeskind to design the new Graduate Centre for London's Metropolitan University is like booking Edward Scissorhands for a plastic surgery operation. Libeskind’s reputation is mixed. He’s been involved in highly acclaimed and successful buildings (see his Jewish Museum in Berlin, 1999) but he’s also assumed his architecture doesn’t have to be site-specific (also see his Jewish Museum in Berlin).
Wrapped in stainless-steel panels, its jaunty angles and higgledy-piggledy form stand in contrast to, well, absolutely everything nearby. According to Libeskind, the three main interlocking ‘shards’ were conceived to reach out to the nearby Underground station, the City and the university's main campus buildings. As an architectural concept, this is as weak and cheap as it gets.
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Location: 166-220 Holloway Rd, N7 8DB (Google)
Nearest Tube: Holloway Road
8. Grand Union Canal Walk Housing
Nicholas Grimshaw, 1989
Nicholas Grimshaw, a truly remarkable Britton, has constructed some of the most acclaimed buildings in London. His interesting trajectory involves solid and steady improvement, which means that his early buildings weren’t, let’s say, compelling. They had the function but the form wasn’t completely mastered. Hence, this early building of his career was a yes-yes in function but perhaps a no-no in form. And let’s be honest, it looks like a UFO in the middle of Regent’s Canal.
Only someone with stamina and passion could have undertaken this difficult triangular plot of land. The scheme included a Sainsbury’s supermarket, a school, parking spaces, office space and housing.
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Location: Grand Union Walk, NW1 9LP (Google)
Nearest Tube: Camden Town
[BONUS] The Minster Building
GMW Partnership, 1992
To close this delightful list of monsters, we couldn’t leave out The Minister Building, an eyesore that (fortunately) didn’t make it to our London Guide. This neo-gothic office building in the middle of The City makes passers-by stop. The first time people spot this huge and unfriendly structure is worthy of mention. We’ve observed in the distance how an entire family stopped at it trying to understand its purpose – is it a torture centre? A prison? A slaughtering house?
The funny fact that it was featured in 101 Dalmatians as as the exterior of Cruella De Vil's haute couture fashion house should explain it all.
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Location: 21 Mincing Ln, London EC3R 7AG (Google)
Nearest Tube: Monument / Tower Hill
We hope you liked this list and encourage you to visit these places in person. Please let us know in the comments what other ugly buildings of London would deserve to appear in part II of this article.
These and other curious locations on Architectour Guide of London