I ALWAYS THINK I KNOW THE STIRLING BUILDINGS WELL.I AM INVARIABLY WRONG
One of the odder corollaries of being a member of the Stirling jury is that you spend all year studiously trying not to visit any building which you think might end up on the shortlist. Wrongly or rightly, the perceived wisdom is that the judging process itself is more equitable and fun if all of the judges are visiting each of the buildings for the very first time. Since most of the buildings have been published in the AJ, I am always quietly confident that I know them pretty well. I am invariably proved wrong.
I first became aware of this discrepancy between promise and reality on a student trip to Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower. We arrived expecting the brutal outsize curves suggested by the thick black lines of the architect's iconic sketches. Where the drawings depict a powerful essay in expressionism towering over the landscape, the reality nestles, rather cosily, in a circle of trees. The staircase which rises through that monumental tower is actually rather cramped. It is curvy, granted, but in a homely sort of way; more girl-next-door than Amazon princess.
The proliferation of photography has done little to combat architecture's stout refusal to be captured within the confines of the page. I have yet to come across a photographer who can capture, say, the ever-unfolding vistas of a walk through a Carlo Scarpa building or the constantly changing natural light which dances through Alvar Aalto's work. And it has done little to combat the tendency to convey architecture as uninhabited sculpture. The energy of Mendelsohn's lines would not have carried such force had he not chosen to depict his building devoid of people - or any other 'clutter' which might convey a sense of scale.
The fact that the shortlisted buildings consistently confound expectations is symptomatic of the gulf between architectural publishing and architecture itself.