The end of July is when architecture geeks get excited and critics get hot under the collar. Why? It’s when the RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist is announced.
Sadly, I hadn’t started this column at the time, so I thought I’d sneak it in now, for anybody who missed it.
The Stirling Prize was founded in 1996 with the aim of being a more open and democratic version of its predecessor, the Building of the Year Award. It “would be for architecture what the Booker Prize was for literature.” Every year RIBA awards £20,000 and a lot of prestige to the architects behind the building that has made the greatest contribution to architecture’s evolution over the year. Projects must be built or designed in Britain and this year’s shortlist is unusual in that all the buildings are actually in the UK.
Unsurprisingly, there’s an Olympic building on there – the Stadium. After Hopkins Architects‘ Velodrome narrowly missed out last year, and in the absence of Zaha Hadid’s Acquatics Centre (rumoured to be being held back for entry next year, when its temporary seating wings have been removed), it would have seemed odd not to include something Olympian, despite the stadium not being the obvious contender.
I was pleased to see both the Hepworth Wakefield (David Chipperfield Architects) and Maggie’s Gartnavel (OMA) on the list, too. I was very excited when the former was built and can’t wait to visit, as much for the building as for its contents – and I’m a big Barbara Hepworth fan. According to William Hill, it’s the favourite to win.
I’m also a huge fan of the charity Maggie’s and the way it uses architecture and design to improve the wellbeing of people with cancer (so much so that I now write for them part-time, too). It’s a real endorsement to see another centre shortlisted after Maggie’s London, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, won in 2009.
Dublin-based practice O’Donnell + Tuomey is shortlisted for the second year running and fourth time overall, this year for the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. It’s been praised for “responding superbly to considerable challenges, including the building’s small, awkwardly irregular and steeply sloping site.”
OMA has two buildings on the shortlist. As well as Maggie’s Glasgow, its second building, New Court, in the City, is part office and part museum, and a replacement for Rothschild’s Bank’s previous 1960s building. It opens up views of a Wren church by creating a pathway towards it and sight lines from the pavement.
Finally, Stanton Williams has been shortlisted for the first time, for The Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge. It’s nice to see such a highly functional building included; and the design cleverly mixes the functional with the public – a botanic garden café.
I’ll leave the last word to RIBA president Angela Brady:
“The annual RIBA Stirling Prize celebrates architectural excellence and this year we have an incredibly strong list of contenders. All the shortlisted buildings demonstrate the essence of great architecture. They are human-scale buildings, places to inspire, entertain, educate and comfort their visitors and passers-by.
“Every building not only works beautifully from within but has a superb relationship with its surroundings, with a strong interplay between the two. They don’t shout ‘look at me’ and even the tallest building, New Court in the City of London, has created good views for passing pedestrians, meeting the challenge of delivering good urban design in an historic area.
“The 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize judges have a difficult job to select a winner from this pool of great talent. I can’t wait to see which project they choose.”