Nova Complex

The label “Britain’s ugliest building”, besides being frustrating for the architect, generates publicity. “Ugliest” is easy to remember, easy to find, and it becomes a kind of a landmark. The aesthetic values of the building are, of course, subjective and big risks often come with strong opinions.

At first, the Nova Complex reminded me of the former World Trade Center buildings in New York, when I was there for a conference on September 17, 2001. The double tower motif and melted lines, with one face that’s part shard and part remnant, were my first and are still my primary impression. All that’s missing is the fine particle dust coating the air and the smell of burnt metal and wiring and I’d be taken back to Manhattan.

The Nova Complex, comprised out of five buildings, is controversial. Is it shock-architecture? Maybe. It was definitely a statement, only the locals can say whether it’s a tribute or not. On seemingly its own island, without the fenestration usual for the neighboring office buildings, would it have been more accepted without the large, red argyle-patterned surfaces? The building itself feels, in a way, somewhat naïve.

But it is utterly modern and completely uncompromising. The sharp pinnacle facing the Victoria station could leave the impression of a hypermodern cathedral, while the mass of the quintet, walls the bordering city blocks, the way icebergs would. The ground floor opens in a triangular arcade, carrying the vertical ribs that were carefully crafted to make the optical illusion of the same argyle pattern from the specific angle. The longevity of this architecture will be appraised as time passes. Until then, it will continue to astonish, surprise and unnerve.

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