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Place your bets, it's Stirling time again

When it comes to the Stirling Prize, the AJ puts its money where its mouth is, writes Christine Murray

The amount the AJ puts towards the Stirling Prize is a significant investment. In real terms, it’s the average annual cost of a Part 1 student – cash we could definitely use, as a hectic title that produces more than 3,000 pages a year.

But we do it because we believe in having a single, flagship award for British architecture, and to give something back to the profession that has supported the AJ for 115 years.

Indeed, we support the Stirling Prize for the same reason we run the annual Small Projects awards, which launches this week: because design excellence in British architecture at any scale deserves all the recognition it can get.

That we have no say in the outcome of either competition – both are judged by jury – is fair and right. But you can bet the debate in the office is still fierce.

As for the Stirling, at last count there’s an even split amongst the editorial team. Hattie Hartman, Simon Hogg, Tom Carpenter and Crystal Bennes are gunning for David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum – for its perfection as a realised project, its sheer beauty and impeccable detailing, and as Chipperfield’s masterstroke.

Richard Waite, Felix Mara, Rory Olcayto and Brad Yendle are going for Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI, for its brash unprecedented nature, as recognition for Hadid’s contribution to the profile and thrust of architecture, because MAXXI forges a missing link between modernism and parametricism, and simply because Hadid deserves to win, having been shortlisted thrice before.

James Pallister says he’s content with either a Neues or a MAXXI win. Both moves are good for architecture, celebrating as they do fully realised, large-scale, historically significant projects by UK architects.

Only Merlin Fulcher picked Rick Mather’s Ashmolean as his favourite, for what he described as its British eccentricity, and its thoughtful contribution to Oxford.

Which leaves me, honoured with the tie-breaking vote, and I have to say that I have been arrested by the beauty of Neues.

Although perhaps this year it’s the shortlist, not the winner, that matters most. And what a vibrant cross-section of architecture it is. It’s great to see a small project and practice make the list. Theis + Khan may not be tipped to win, but its inclusion on the shortlist gives hope to small practices everywhere that their work will not go unnoticed by the Stirling Prize.

As for DSDHA and dRMM, to have two schools on the list pays tribute to the incredible contribution architects can make to school design in the UK – a skill they will hopefully export, now that the government doubts the valuable, if experimental, work completed in this sector.

And for practices that feel left out of the Stirling showcase, do enter your projects with a contract value of £250,000 or less into the Small Projects awards. We look forward to perusing your entries and engaging in more fierce debate. Until then.

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