Building Design magazine’s awarding of its Carbuncle Cup for this year’s worst new building to Nova, a new office and retail development around the corner from London’s Victoria Station, sets off predictable reactions. How could it have been built? Who in their right mind would give it planning permission? And why didn’t someone do something to stop it?
I have some experience of the Carbuncle Cup: in 2014 it was given to the Woolwich Central development (a huge Tesco’s with flats on top, considerably dumbed-down by cost-cutting on the way from drawing board to completion), whose planning permission was granted by a Greenwich planning committee I had chaired ten years ago. But Woolwich was – and arguably still is – an obscure corner of south-east London, while Nova is at the very heart of London. What is this development – which unless you live or work in Victoria, few would have heard of until now – and how did it come about?
Rather than the Nova development as a whole, the Cup’s only been awarded to Nova North and Nova South, two 16-storey office blocks by PLP Architecture described by judges as “a hideous mess”, a “crass assault on all your senses”, and a “demented preening cockerel”. A residential building to the west, by Benson & Forsyth (architects of the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh), and to the east Lynch Architects’ L-shaped block containing a new public library, are rather better. But they’re not enough to redeem the rest. The whole of this huge 2.5-hectare development – bordered by Bressenden Place, Buckingham Palace Road and Victoria Street – is a shambles.
Nova’s construction cranes above the Palace Theatre, 2016
On paper it’s great of course. Its marketing material says Nova is “a game changing 897,000 square feet mixed use scheme delivering 603,000 square feet of world class Grade A offices, 193,000 square feet of contemporary high quality apartments, 85,000 square feet of inventive and inspirational restaurants, eateries, bars, and retail”.
The developers once crowed that they would create a “covetable workspace for innovative global businesses, a destination for exciting, concept shopping, and a distinctive, ever-changing cultural space”. Nova is “More than a development… [it’s] a campus, a village, a district, a quarter, a landmark, a place to live, work and enjoy. Because it’s completely new. It’s Nova”. Some people, the blurb added, “think all the large scale, redefining, landmark developments in central London have already been done. We think differently… Nova is an architecturally daring development on a grand scale, creating a vibrant new link between Victoria Station and Buckingham Palace and the Royal Parks, and definitively crowning the recent reinvention of Victoria.”
Sadly no one at Westminster Council had their bullshit detectors on when this guff was written. Why not? Victoria is often seen merely as a transport interchange, through which passengers pass as quickly as they can, or at best a transitional area between Belgravia, St James’, Pimlico and Westminster. Continue reading