Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Architecture has been in the news this week with the announcement that a leisure complex in Stockport has won the Carbuncle Cup. The prize is awarded annually by the magazine Building Design to the building that is judged the ugliest in the UK to have been completed in the past year. The Redrock Stockport, which contains cinemas, restaurants, bars, shops and a huge multi-storey car park, beat contenders including an eco-home in London and a hotel extension in Liverpool. The shortlist is drawn from nominations by the public, one of whom described the complex as ‘an absolute monstrosity’ while a judge said it made them feel sorry for the people of Stockport.

It is to be presumed that architects dread being nominated for the prize, let alone winning it, though the architect of the eco-house, who lives there himself, has stoutly defended his creation. There is often little agreement on what constitutes good architecture or bad, with professionals often seeming distinctly at odds with the general public, but it seems that no one had a good word to say for this year’s winner.

Divergences in architectural taste go right to the top of British society, since the prize is named after a term used by Prince Charles to refer to a building proposal he greatly disliked. Back in 1984 he referred to a proposed extension to the National Gallery as ‘a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend’, and although he has since modified his comments the extension in its original form was never built.

The term carbuncle originally meant a large infected lump under the skin, and is also used to refer to a red jewel such as a ruby or a garnet. The meaning coined by Prince Charles has entered the language, and is the third sense in the Macmillan Dictionary entry. It comes from the Latin word ‘carbunculus’ meaning ‘small coal’.

Architecture and architect refer to more than just buildings. In computing, architecture is the design and structure of a computer system or program and the way it works in relation to other systems and programs, while a systems architect is someone whose job is to design and sometimes implement these systems. More generally, the architect of something is the person who has an idea and makes it happen. The term The Great Architect is sometimes applied to God, especially in Masonic ritual, which ties in with the movement’s origins in medieval fraternities of stonemasons. Architect and architecture come to us via French, Italian and Latin from the Greek ‘arkhitektōn’, meaning ‘chief builder’.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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