Why is this building on an ugliest architecture list?

Senior Architect David Tritt defends some famous buildings listed on several "Ugliest Buildings" lists.

After reading several Ugliest Buildings lists online, I thought that I would assemble my own.  Until I noticed that I disagreed with several selections that show up regularly on these lists, like Boston City Hall.  

There are several others that I take issue with as well. These are structures that may not be great architecture, but they do not deserve what I consider to be slander. For example, the infamous inverted pyramid, Tempe Arizona City Hall, appeared on a couple of lists I recently read. What is most interesting about this building to me is that the same inverted pyramid was designed and built at approximately the same time in Bratislava, Slovakia.  And, in turn, is on more than one of Europe’s ugliest building lists.

First of all these two buildings have atypical and interesting configurations, but not what I would call ugly. They were completed at about the same time by two different unrelated architectural firms located halfway around the world from each other:

Left: the Slovak Radio building. Right: Tempe City Hall.

At the left, the Slovak Radio building is listed as The Telegraph newspaper’s 10thugliest building in the world and at the right, the Tempe City Hall was voted the ugliest building in Arizona by the readers of Business Insider magazine.

If one wants to consider a pyramid-shaped building that is ugly, I suggest that one refers to this unfinished hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, which is on a few ugly building lists:  

An unfinished hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea designed in the shape of a pyramid.

Also on the Business Insider ugly list was, once again, Boston City Hall, as well as one of my new favorites in Manhattan, 432 Park Avenue residential tower.  A writer I ran into, Russell Poole, considers it the worst building in New York.  I think that what these critics note as criticism is what I like about 432 Park Avenue - it is tall and skinny. As Louis Sullivan said, a skyscraper should be“a tall and soaring thing”. Pencil thin is what some have called negatively. This is true. It is pencil thin, but in an elegant way. Another criticism that I have read is that it stands out against the skyline, but I do not think that qualifies it for an ugly building classification. Quite the contrary. It is rather dramatic on the skyline, especially with its striking gridded window/wall proportion:

432 Park Avenue Condominiums

Another hi-rise residential tower that made number 4 on My London’s website’s “11 Buildings I Wish Were Torn Down” list is Ernő Goldfinger’s 1970’s brutalist Trellick Tower:

Trellick Tower in Notting Hill

I don’t see this as the worst “brutalist” example around.

What is interesting to note about Ernő Goldfinger is his other work.  His post-WW2 architecture, particularly his schools in and around London, are great examples of modernist design.  However, his reputation preceded him in that he was a difficult man, and so the criticism of his work is tainted.  Nonetheless, his own 1939 prewar home at 2 Willow Road was groundbreaking for the time. His is the middle residence in this 3-residence block (a young Sir Ove Arup designed his entry staircase).

2 Willow Road, designed by Ernő Goldfinger.

An interesting aside regarding Goldfinger’s last name: it turns out that his neighbor, Ian Fleming, was writing one of his novels and had a particularly adversarial relationship with Ernő, to the point of naming the villain in the novel after him.  This continued to be a bone of contention for the rest of their lives.

Top: Sharp Center. Bottom: Orange County Government Center.

Two other buildings on various ugliest buildings list are Toronto’s Sharp Center for Design by Will Alsop, which was one of two buildings voted by residents of Ontario on the NARCITY website as “ugliest building in Ontario”, and PaulRudolph’s Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York. The photo on the lower right above shows the building during demolition. Yes, it was hated so much that they tore it down.  Even after demolition, Orange County Government Center still remains on several ugliest buildings lists.  I am not a big fan of Rudolph’s work, but I believe this project is rather interesting in its complexity and it does not deserve the ugly building designation. 

The other interesting Ontario building listed on NARCITY’s ugly list is the Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind:

Royal Ontario Museum

This building was also listed as the 8th ugliest building in the world on Virtual Toyurist.com.  

Also listed as the 5th ugliest building in the world on this same website is one of my favorite pieces of architecture of all time: the Pompidou Center in Paris by Piano and Rogers, both of whom were very young men at the time they won this famous international design competition. I believe that the Center is one of the most iconic pieces of architecture of the 20th century. Philip Johnson was on the jury for the competition and steadfastly fought for the Piano and Rogers’s submission. Johnson had encouraged them to submit when the competition was first announced, but he did not know what they would enter. He had faith in them that whatever they created would be interesting.  Both had been students of his at Yale, and at the time had little interest in competing, but did so anyway.  Although the submissions were anonymous Johnson fiercely defended this submission and in the end, won out.  Unlike a lot of international highly-publicized competitions, the winning entry actually did get built:

Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou was a major departure at the time not only for the City of Paris, but for the international design community as well. Although on many ugly building lists, it remains one of my favorite pieces of architecture of all time.

A personal note: while an architectural student I used this competition in combination with three of my classmates as our thesis submission in undergraduate school.  Boy, were we in over our heads!  First of all, the program sent to us was an inch thick and in French.  But with the help of the French department, we got through it.

Our submission was similar to many other submissions in that it was a well-articulated stone façade art museum designed around an exterior courtyard sculpture garden; designed in context with the city’s urban fabric.  It was not a bad building design, but not trend-setting like the winner. We were proud of it for no other reason than we met a very complex program for the building and were able to finish on time. The entry involved mailing a huge model and our drawings off to Paris. As a young man, I was completely blown away when the winning submission came out. This is great, I thought. I then had to rethink what I was doing with my life. I still believe it is brilliant, despite the fact that it is disliked by so many others.

About five years ago there was an exhibit of some of the 700 (yes 700) competition entries to be held at the Centre Pompidou, and our student model and drawings were chosen to be displayed.  It was a nice feeling when Centre contacted me to let me know.

So, in terms of publishing my own ugly building list, I got turned around because I disagreed with many selections. And I could go on. Maybe I will write about other selections that I disagree with in the future. It is a fertile ground for blog posts.


 Blog Post written by David Tritt, Senior Architect.

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