Cutty Sark Gardens – beauty and the beasts emerge

First the good news – the rebuilt Cutty Sark is starting to look terrific. The widely-mocked “greenhouse” below seems to work well, and things are looking good ahead of its official reopening by the Queen on 25 April. Considering the problems at the Cutty Sark Trust (whose website has now vanished), I’m wondering if there’s anything to read into the fact that the old ship’s been taken under the Royal Museums Greenwich banner, along with the maritime museum, Queen’s House and observatory.

Cutty Sark Gardens is also starting to emerge, although it still feels grey and featureless and less green than we were led to believe in the consultation. But it’s early days.

And now, the bad news. Those without strong stomachs, look away now. I’ve never known architecture to make me actually physically queasy, but the crappy-looking restaurants on the pier have done just that.

I’m not sure which is worse, the look of them – like ticket booths at a theme park – or the horrible bronze cladding, which looks like the kind of stuff painted onto a cheap £2.99 imitation Oscar statuette. How on earth did we end up being lumbered with this crap?

Local councillor Matt Pennycook has touched upon some of the issues, and says Greenwich Council is to take “enforcement action” against the restaurant operators for the unauthorised, garish signage. You can even see a huge Frankie and Benny’s logo from Island Gardens, on the other side of the Thames.

Unfortunately, there are few clues from the February 2007 planning meeting which gave these horrors the go-ahead, and there’s no documents on the council website from the original planning application. A BBC News story from the time does feature a useless-looking artists’ impression, though.

But seriously – how on earth did these get the nod? What changed in the five years between permission being granted and completion? What do these f’ugly lumps mean for World Heritage Site status? And what can we do about them?


  1. Having seen the pics and comments on TGP, I was ready to judge the buildings as a disaster and a blight on Greenwich. But having now been to look at them in the flesh, I was surprised to find the development reasonably unobjectionable. The ‘copper’ cladding is a bit crap and the signage needs to be torn down, but the scale of the buildings is modest, their shape interesting, and the rooftop seating is inviting and makes good use of space. It’s the ‘Gardens’ that I find more of a disappointment – all paving slab and no greenery. Like it was before.

  2. I wondered the same about a Cutty Sark/RMG tie up, but this makes it clear that ownership of the Cutty Sark is still with the Cutty Sark Trust. I wonder if this is just them using the RMG infrastructure for bookings etc. That said, the Trust has not exactly covered itself with glory through the renovation and serious questions need to be asked about its future

    I’m with you on those buildings – anywhere else, they would be fine, but not on a World Heritage site

  3. Blimey are they trying to turn Greenwich into a poor man’s Fisherman’s Wharf?

  4. This cladded-style of building patchwork has become the default setting for sub-modernist style service building and extensions, hasn’t it? Frank Gehry- lite I would call it. I think the reasoning goes: no point in trying to compete with historical context: we don’t have the money and we don’t have the ability. Instead, go for a strong contrast: push this “idea” as being “complimentary” to the surroundings as much as possible and the visually-illiterate planners will be happy with the “design story” and accept you proposals.

    Hope the fact they look temporary means they will be. Signage adds to the messy look -expect the “architects’ wouldn’t have wanted this addition..

    Gardens without planting is also an answer to the perrenial problem of needing someone to care for them. Getting sick of this style too.

    Sorry, to sound so grouchy but there is simply too much rubbish design being allowed at the moment – and there are so many good community-based architects who never get a look in and could do better.

  5. The decision to raise the Cutty Sark 11 feet turns out to have been genius. You catch unlikely views of the masts from all sorts of corners of Greenwich where you couldn’t see it before (at least until they build the Greenwich Market hotel and the School of Architecture). At least the School of Architecture won’t be short of examples of “how to… ” and “how not to…” within a few hundred yards. Grimshaw’s Cutty Sark glasshouse conservatory is much better in real life than in the projections. But the pier? It used to be a quiet single storey wooden building – quaint and unobtrusive and not obscuring or fighting with Wren, Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh – now the first thing visitors see as they arrive by boat from London (especially at low tide) is Royal Las Vegas on Thames.

  6. The buildings are shocking, and add nothing to the site (haven’t been over to Island Gardens to see the full horror from the other side yet). You’ll have heard that Frankie and Bennies’ signage has been refused planning permission by Greenwich Council, but I’m yet to see anything come down. I suppose there’s an economic interest for the borough in having restaurants that visitors might actually use and that can deal with big numbers in an Olympic year, but afterwards? The heart sinks…

  7. I do like the light and the tree in your Byron pic though, makes it look quite atmospheric. Suggest you swap it for a picture taken on a rainy, dull day. 😉

  8. The magnificent view across the river from Island Gardens (which must rank as one of the best in London)has been utterly ruined by these burger bars. I could weep when I look across to Greenwich now.

  9. I’m with Adam on this. While it could have been something more sympathetic towards the ORNC, I do not subscribe to the angst shown by many others. The rooftop terraces have some of the finest panoramic views in London with Nando’s view taking top prize. I expect these venues will be extremely popular.

    However, alongside the (surely) soon-to-disappear signage, it is not too late to tone down the glass frontage (why *blue* panels?) without ruining the spectacular views for which the tenants are paying extremely high rents.

  10. I can’t put it better than the estimable Diamond Geezer’s response: in my experience, the very best place to stand for a great view is always on top of the eyesore

  11. It’s the view from Island Garden that’s the most shocking. It’s here that the wooden slat of the “approved” buildings have gone. Instead you have frosted and red glass, a large red F&B (which might do) and a huge map of Italy (which will stay. How very suitable for the location, altho the excuse might be that zizz have nothing at all to do with Italy).

    It is a truly uninspired group of buildings that should sit at the entrance to a retail park, not a world heritage site.

    The rationale for the metal panels is that they will age… this is possible. But atho I’ve had a detailed missive from Matthew Pennycook, I can’t for the life of me see who actually OK’d the switch from largely wood to largely glass buildings when they’re supposed to match a wooden Cutty Sark…

  12. Have to disagree on the Sark’s greenhouse. I hate it so much my heart aches. The tinted glass completely obscures her hull, as your picture shows, and makes it look like she’s sitting on a giant bubble of crude oil. You can’t see her lines any more, particularly her stunning bow and stern, where the greyish black greenhouse flares up fore and aft.

    I get particularly upset when I think about how spectacular the original waterline glass ‘wave’ would have looked – and the fact that the smoked glass greenhouse was designed largely to give those enjoying private functions underneath the ship more privacy from prying eyes.

    I have had a reply from the planners on the pier buildings’ compliance with planning permission. Will provide a summary when I can.

  13. Have to say I have just been down there and as they clear away the clutter the worse it looks. The “greenhouse” is shaped so that you can’t see the ship properly and the closer you get the worse it is as it ends up obscuring the whole hull before you get very close making it look like the damn thing has sunk. Also the finish and design is very crude and materials poor quality. It looks to have been designed by an architect… shudder… as for the riverside bits, worse than bad, like a cheap out of town shopping mall.

  14. With the close proximity of the pier buildings, the Cutty Sark with its neighbouring lift/entrance-building monstrosity, & The Old Royal Naval College, there is far too much incongruity happening in Cutty Sark Gardens now. It’s as if the projects were all designed without a notion of overall context. It does not seem fitting for a World Heritage Site, and seems garish. The Cutty Sark doesn’t look right at all without seeing the magnificent hull – its most distinguishing part; the pier buildings are too high obliterating too much of the Thames (unless you are inside the buildings), and the wood cladding will weather very badly. On my visit on 21st April, there seemed too little seating and hardly any rubbish-bins. The narrow surface along the edge of the planting was choc-a-bloc with visitors eating take-away food and the two bins provided were already overflowing by 2pm. Unless the area is overseen as a whole ‘attraction’ and kept clean and refurbished regularly, I envisage it will become very shabby and possibly vandalised. I did think the pedestrian Thames-tunnel building refurb excellent, at least from the outside!
    It would be interesting to know just what Queen Elizabeth honestly makes of it all when she arrives on Wednesday 25th, but I fear we will never truly know.

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