Catherine Slessor, President of the Twentieth Century Society and former editor-in-chief of the Architectural Review
We have said it before, but the RIBA Stirling Prize is always like trying to judge a particularly eclectic literary prize with a dazzling diversity of genres. How do you compare a cookbook with a small volume of poetry? Detective fiction with biography?
This year’s shortlist looks larger than usual, with a bridge to a mosque and housing for key workers competing with a pier museum on Windermere. This may be the stay effect of Covid, but the inclusion of programs in Cornwall and the Lake District, two traditional English vacation spots, is striking.
Perhaps this is RIBA’s unconscious gesture to common experience, given that most people have inevitably been detained on these islands over the past year.
The Tintagel Castle Walkway – certainly the small volume of poetry on the shortlist – perhaps stretches it out a bit as a piece of architecture, unless you count the castle it’s attached to. Carmody Groarke’s Pier Museum, on the other hand, lurking darkly by the lake, could be an enigmatic Dark Scandi short story, starring a tortured detective protagonist. Elsewhere, the muscular citadel by Grafton Architects for Kingston University is a heavy potboiler biography; and Stanton Williams’ key worker housing a skillfully executed sixth or seventh novel and knowing his target market.
This leaves Marks Barfield’s Cambridge Central Mosque, its ornate tree structure giving it the slightly overworked feel of a vintage treasure trove of hand-painted botanical illustrations, while the architectural architecture of Amin Taha famous cause in Clerkenwell Close is surrounded by such a torturous story of planned intrigue and subterfuge that it could be a spy novel. Key Questions: Will Taha win and deliver a triumphant raspberry to Islington Planning Department? Can Grafton win yet another prize? And above all, can a bridge be a building?
Shankari Raj, Director of AJ 40 under 40 Nudge Group
It’s great to revisit the Stirling Prize – and with a mix of projects that shows the depth and breadth of what collaborative design and architecture can be. From a bridge to a mosque, the range is diverse.
But where is the âwowâ project that changes the culture of architecture? Or the project deployed to meet social and environmental needs? Are these projects unsuccessful or are they being ignored?
All of the contenders are beautifully designed, well detailed and unique, and the RIBA has paid extra attention this year to achieving the sustainability goals. However, none of the projects excites me too much. This may be in part due to the saturation of images we are bombarded with on the internet or the sheer complexity of delivering projects, from contracts to regulations and goals. We surely want to see the revolutionary and transformative architecture that will shape a better future for all of us. The RIBA Stirling Prize is expected to represent the the best of the best architecture and generate political will.
Getting anything built is to be applauded and all of these projects are worth mentioning. I like Groupwork’s 15 Clerkenwell Close, even though it is their private residence. And Carmody Groarke’s project in Windermere, the Jetty Museum, stands out for its location, but it lacks a trick with the way it engages spatially with the landscape in plan.
While I think they all have some merit, I’m not sure I like enough to name an outright winner. The winner has to tick many boxes for me: to have a social and environmental backbone to impress with its scale, mass, spatial configuration, materiality and detail.
If I had to choose just one? Frankly, I would struggle. Maybe the bridge for English heritage?
Claire Bennie, Director, Municipal, and former Director of Development at Peabody
Architecture, like marriage, is a social experience, built on an equal blend of foresight and hope, and proving (or losing) its value over time. We give architecture a sort of ‘Tinder treatment’ once a year with the RIBA Stirling Prize, swiping left and right over buildings based on hyperbole and flattering imagery.
Judges could âgo on a dateâ with the shortlist, but is that enough? We know why we do it: The RIBA Stirling Prize can make great TV, we love celebrations (architectural awards are notoriously rare) and, more significantly, it might make audiences expect more rewarding buildings in the world. of real estate. But the public sometimes has a hard time with architects, as their buildings can deteriorate over time or, at worst, break down. Could and should the RIBA Stirling Prize be a vehicle for exploring long-term success by building public confidence? Every year we both could celebrate the winner and revisit the shortlist of 25 years ago, interviewing users and neighbors and seeing how buildings have evolved.
Stephen Hodder’s Centenary Building at Salford University won the 1996 first Stirling Prize and now appears to be empty pending a major campus review. Repeats can be uncomfortable. They expose architects to accusations of poor design and sometimes clients have failed to take care of their buildings. A good post-occupation assessment is rare for these reasons, but informative.
The one I would have slipped on just this year is probably the mosque, although I am concerned about the longevity of facades without details. But let’s revisit the mosque in 2046 to see if it still looks attractive and if it has formed a meaningful relationship with both its users and the community.
Do you agree with our reviews? Let us know your thoughts on this year’s shortlist – leave a comment below.