No suprises but Swiss Re's success is a tribute to both practice and client
The only thing missing at the otherwise excellent Stirling Prize was a real sense of surprise. Swiss Re was the public's favourite and the bookies' favourite and, although this is a notoriously poor predictor of the judges' choice, it was also the building that most of the profession would have expected to win. None of which will have swayed the judges at all. They made their unanimous decision entirely on the basis of the buildings they saw. All of the runners-up, although excellent, were in some way flawed, whether in concept or execution. In some cases there was a strong argument for saying that these failings were not the fault of the architect - but that was not the point. This prize goes to a building, and so is awarded for results, and not for aspiration.
But Swiss Re did not win by default. Despite having weaknesses of its own (when are those last panels going on? ), it is a major achievement and the culmination of work by a practice that is about to start battling in earnest with the issue of succession planning. More than anything, it is a tribute to a determined, cussed client.
Sara Fox of Swiss Re knew that she wanted a special building, a landmark that also offered the occupants special qualities. This she has certainly managed, as recognised by everyone, except those responsible for letting space.
This is also the first time that an office building has won Stirling, and it was the only entirely privately funded project on the shortlist. Again, congratulations are due to the client for understanding the importance of making a proper investment. It is sadly in contrast to some of the other projects on the shortlist - to the Kunsthaus in Graz that was severely compromised by the money for the daylighting technology running out, or to the Coventry Phoenix, where a lack of vision left some uncomfortable contrasts between old and new.
The Scottish parliament is already favourite for next year's prize, again supported by The Architects' Journal.
It may not be an exemplar of financial probity, but at least it shows that architects' visions can still be achieved in the public sector.