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Why AJ ♥ the RIBA Stirling Prize

AJ Editor Christine Murray on why the AJ sponsors the most prestigious building prize in UK architecture

Yes, the television coverage of the RIBA Stirling Prize is a touch Grand Designs-meets-BAFTAs; and the architect of the winning building is usually, like at the Oscars, already a well-known star, often a shortlist veteran. You might think the AJ financially supports this prize despite its X-Factor glitz and clamour. But in truth, the AJ has persisted in sponsoring this award for over a decade, through challenging economic times, because we believe the Stirling Prize TV show promotes the excellence of uk architecture in an entertaining format the public can engage with.

In 1995, the RIBA founded the Stirling Prize, named in tribute to architect James Stirling. The most prestigious award in British architecture, the £20,000 prize is presented to the architect of the project built or designed in Britain that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year. The AJ is proud to sponsor this accolade for the eleventh year running. We sponsor the Stirling Prize for the same reason we partner with programmes such as Open House London, and support the RIBA Awards and Manser Medal - as an extension of our role as the leading voice of the profession. Of the independent architectural press, we have the furthest reach in the industry.

The AJ doesn’t just report; it influences. If I could show you the list of AJ subscribers, you would instantly recognise the fat cats among the architects. These include property developers from around the world, every major contractor, investors and links in the procurement chain, not to mention local authorities and representatives from both UK and international government, as well as academics, engineers and of course, architects from Australia to Uzbekistan. With Twitter, we’ve seen the AJ’s global influence amplify: @ArchitectsJrnal now has over 20,000 followers, nearly twice that of the RIBA.

This might surprise even long-time AJ readers. Down the pub, more than once, I’ve heard comments echoed not three weeks ago at a debate on the merits of architectural magazines: ‘The trouble with the architectural press is that it’s a closed conversation between architects that no one else really cares about.’

This is a prevalent myth, perhaps propagated by architects who want to pretend that publication in magazines doesn’t much matter anymore (thankfully, having your building published still means a great deal in this industry, as do awards). But it is also an easy myth to disprove. Stories broken exclusively by the AJ reguarly get picked up by one of the newspapers, from the Evening Standard to the Independent and the Observer to the Daily Express.

They don’t always cite the source of the story, but often we were the only source, as with Paul Finch’s comments on the ‘contemporary’ design of the Olympic venues, which took up the whole of page three of the Guardian last month. The newspaper even demanded a response from the Department for Communities and Local Government to the AJ’s coverage.

On Sunday, the RIBA Best Buildings of 2011 Special will air at 5pm on BBC2, giving architecture some much-needed good PR. I will be in Rotherham the night before presenting the cheque to the winning architect of the Stirling Prize.

But I will also be there as an advocate for the profession. The television programme’s million-plus general audience of potential clients will learn about a cultural institution, an art gallery, a theatre, a school, an office and an Olympic venue, which were wholly invented or significantly improved by their architects. Bets aside, the AJ doesn’t mind which building takes the prize - it is UK architecture PLC that we are gunning for.

Nominations

All of the practices on this year’s shortlist have been nominated before: Hopkins Architects, Bennetts Associates and O’Donnell + Tuomey have been nominated three times, Zaha Hadid Architects, five and David Chipperfield Architects, seven.

Judges’ comments

‘Visiting the newly completed buildings was great. I always ask the public and the users of the buildings for their opinion. The panel are as much interested in how the buildings function as the aesthetic design. Sustainability and materiality is taken in to account, as well as maintenance - how do you clean that window? Such a diverse group of projects: it was like a smorgasbord of delight and joy, each building with its own special factors and idiosyncrasies.’ Angela Brady, RIBA president and chair of the judging panel

‘I don’t care a bugger what people are betting on, I have more faith in the jury than in chitter-chatter. It was an extremely well balanced and highly intelligent panel, and there were therefore no foregone conclusions. I was very agreeably surprised by at least two of the buildings. But I think it’s a frightful pity there’s nobody new on the shortlist. You’re given the six on a plate. One is always slightly suspicious of how the six were awarded from the longlist.’ Peter Cook, founder of Archigram and Crab Studio

‘It is an altogether overwhelming and humbling experience to see the six projects together. One is reminded of the efforts we all put into the industry. It was a particularly warm feeling to witness the excellent clients together with their excellent architects, both still so excited. Personally, I am glad there are well-developed riba judging criteria, as I had to keep going back to them - we are comparing apples with spoons, and each is a winner in its own way.’ Hanif Kara, co-founder of AKT II

‘The Stirling shortlist captures the huge diversity of architectural positions and approaches being produced in the uk today. What is interesting is to analyse the level of consistency and control each architect has achieved - from the scale of the overall architectural concept to the smallest detail, and to find the moments of real joy and invention.’ Alison Brooks, former Stirling Prize winner and founder of Alison Brooks Architects

‘I was interested to see how architecture can be used to improve the quality of life, create cohesive spaces for people, and reinvent buildings that no longer work. Some of the architecture is not beautiful, but it performs a function. Those that you don’t warm to immediately on an aesthetic level, you recognise what they do for people. Sometimes detailing and slick materials are a cover for something that doesn’t have so much depth. Dan Pearson, gardening editor at the Observer

Previous winners

1996 Centenary Building, University of Salford, UK by Stephen Hodder 1997 State Music School, Stuttgart, Germany by James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates 1998 American Air Museum, Imperial War Museum Duxford, UK by Foster + Partners 1999 Lord’s Media Centre, London, UK by Future Systems 2000 Peckham Library, London, UK by Alsop & Störmer 2001 Magna Centre, Rotherham, UK by Wilkinson Eyre 2002 Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Gateshead, UK by Wilkinson Eyre 2003 Laban Centre, London, UK by Herzog & de Meuron 2004 30 St Mary Axe, London, UK by Foster + Partners 2005 Scottish Parliament building, Edinburgh, UK by embt/rmjm 2006 Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain by Richard Rogers Partnership 2007 Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar, Germany by David Chipperfield Architects 2008 Accordia development, Cambridge, UK by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios/Alison Brooks Architects/Maccreanor Lavington Architects 2009 Maggie’s Centre, London, UK by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners 2010 maxxi museum, Rome, Italy by Zaha Hadid Architects

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