Stirling Prize Retrospective


Last year I had a thought about the Stirling prize – it is meant to be awarded to the project that is the most influential and of the highest quality in that year. Last year the Zaha Hadid school was given the award and I believed that this should have been awarded to the Velodrome by Michael Hopkins – a building that has been widely discussed and lauded this year – much more so than the Hadid school. This is confirmed by this poll at the time. Hadid’s school appeared to be too strong a statement against the governments comments on school design, which have now culminated in the current baseline standards. It may have caused more issues than it solved by doing so.

The key criterion for any award given by the RIBA is that the project should demonstrate excellence. All RIBA Award winners are considered for the RIBA Stirling Prize. RIBA Awards juries assess design excellence irrespective of style, size or complexity of project. They also take into account constraints of budget, brief and timetable, and the economic and social contexts of each project.

Almost all buildings, even great works of architecture, have some flaws. There will be times, for example, when a flaw in the conception or the execution may be thought serious enough for the jury to reject an entry. Equally, the jury may set aside some reservations because of the overall strength of the design and the single-mindedness that has been brought to its execution.

Juries are asked to judge the quality of the design of the scheme, taking into consideration aspects such as sustainability, budget, architectural ambition and ideas, design vision, materials used, accessibility and its fitness for purpose.

An award-winning project should be capable of enduring as a fine work of architecture throughout its working life.

I propose to briefly discuss the Stirling prize award from 2002, which project won and which should have won. The Gateshead bridge by Wilkinson Eyre won against a varied field that year, the second consecutive Stirling prize award for this architect. Although a unique design solution, this was not my personal choice to win for that year, it felt more of an engineering solution than architectural.

The projects it won against included the BDP school that has also been very influential in urban school design over time and is still referenced. Having said this, multi storey schools were not too prevalent during the BSF process, with most three storeys maximum and this experiment has not been continued here. The Lloyds building represented a refinement of Richard Rodgers ideas and is a very fine office building, in retrospect it is hard to fault the quality but it is rather soulless when compared to the Gridshell building for instance. David Chipperfields inclusion was the beginning of a run of nominations for his work, in particular the Neus Museum which is meant to be excellent, his refinement and restrained approach is evident in this scheme. Malcolm Fraser and Benson and Forsyth appear to be the odd ones out of the list, both projects relatively little known in hindsight.

My personal thought is that the Gridshell building was more influential and a better scheme to have won that year, particularly with retrospect. It is still used as an exemplar of innovative sustainable timber construction and used by students continually for these reasons.

In 2001 the Magna centre won against a shortlist that included the Eden Project by Michael Hopkins which has been so influential over the last ten years, not just the year it was completed. This year the shortlist is equally varied and it will be interesting to see which wins and what, in retrospect should have won.

Photos of all projects:
Stirling prize 2002

Malcolm Fraser Architects, Dance Base studio, Edinburgh

Edward Cullinan Architects, Downland Gridshell Building

David Chipperfield, Ernsting’s service centre, Germany

Wilkinson Eyre, Gateshead Millennium bridge

BDP, Hampden Gurney Primary School, London

Benson Forsyth, Millennium Wing, National Gallery of Ireland

Rogers Stirk Harbour Partnership, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, London


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