Public interest in the Stirling Prize makes everyone a winner
The Stirling Prize has quickly established itself, in the tradition of the Booker and Turner prizes, as an annual event of significant public interest - and that must be good for architecture and good for architects.
At last, architecture is being celebrated - no longer a stuffy profession whose players operate anonymously and mysteriously.
We have the good efforts of a series of recent RIBA presidents to thank for this newfound status. Now Marco Goldschmied has yoked the tremendous energy and talent of the profession into a glossy awards process courtesy of Channel 4 television.
This is the most important point, for it matters not to architecture who won - the schemes were all brilliant. What matters is that architecture, through people such as Jonathan Glancey, Simon Jenkins and Piers Gough, is now regularly paraded for public interest.
The lid is off the Pandora's box and people are discovering how to enjoy architecture, appreciate its richness and diversity, and engage in its endless controversy.
And the public, watching the Stirling Prize, will hopefully have been persuaded of the importance of process to good architecture. It could have been Eric Parry or Amandas Baillieu and Levete explaining the brilliant integration of design disciplines in the detailing of the Canary Wharf Station, or by Michael Manser setting the televised debate among judges into the broader context of architectural debate, or Tracey Emin bringing the conversation crashing to earth with her testy challenges to all informed opinion - no matter how distinguished!
But the differences between the judges, and the consequent delays to the awards ceremony, served only to heighten interest and demonstrate the extraordinary difficulties in assessing even the best work.
Throughout the programme, architecture was being viewed in the broader context - the London Eye in terms of its impact on the public imagination and the London skyline, Walsall Art Gallery as an element of regeneration, and so on.
And how better to begin Channel 4's coverage than to hear Tony Blair talking about the importance of design and his appreciation of the projects.
But how wrong Frank Duffy was to brand the Stirling Prize as 'superficial' and 'old fashioned', and how naive to suggest that the degree of 'personalisation . . . isn't appropriate' (AJ 02.11.00). Of course, he was right to emphasise the importance of project management skills but this aspect is hardly likely to make for good TVmaterial in the way that outstanding design does.
And anyway Frank, your criticisms of the star system are overstated. David Marks and Julia Barfield weren't 'stars' before they did the wheel; neither were Caruso/St John before Walsall. So what is wrong with celebrating their achievements? Architects such as these have been invaluable in putting architecture back on the map and the 'trickle down' effect will benefit us all: when the public expects more of buildings our profession can expect better commissions.
What the RIBAmust now do is ensure that the interest and concern that has become so much a part of the Stirling Prize is extended more widely. Malcolm Parry has done much towards this end with his TVprogrammes in Wales. And this is where the regional architecture awards can become so much more effective: they too can become public events with ever greater effort towards involving local communities in the processes of selection. Through exhibitions of work at regional architecture centres, good projects can be brought to the community in a way that will continue to heighten interest in architecture at the local level, for the less significant, but nevertheless important, buildings that people are in daily contact with.
So I say to Frank Duffy and all those who whinge on about the Stirling Prize: don't drag the RIBA back into the glum and gloomy old days - let us enjoy the new-found status many have worked so long to gain for architecture - and let us never forget:
promoting architecture promotes architects.