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Stirling effort: bridge building and teamwork


When is a building not a building? When, it seems, it's a bridge.The immediate jubilation and simultaneous scorn which greeted Wilkinson Eyre's second Stirling Prize win for its Millennium Bridge in Gateshead was remarkable.Because, as some Stirling revellers revelled, commentators and the profession itself huddled around to grumble that this was not a building at all, that it enclosed no space so it couldn't be, that it was engineering, not architecture, and that it had no place winning the award.

Partially this was a profession mourning for one of the other, popular finalists, Edward Cullinan Architects' Gridshell building, being denied its place in the sun.That appeared to tick all the right boxes - sustainable, crafted, and elegant.But this reaction to the winner was also old-fashioned, wrong-headed protectionism, the profession closing ranks and compartmentalising their output in a way which would make Egan shudder.

In fact, the bridge is a prime example of Eganite principles, where architect and engineer have got together at the earliest possible stage to attend to the brief. It defeated its competition with a proposal which hinged up, less like the 'blinking eye' (a tag the architects hate), and more like the motorcycle helmet visor. It was neither the architect saying to the engineer, 'make this work', nor the engineer saying to the architect, 'make this look good'. The regenerative impact on the area, its easy iconic form, and local popularity, even to a city rich in river crossings, must have ensured its status as the building of the year.Building, because it is built - and because it already is the Building of the Year, designated by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust.

But Stirling still has problems.The judging process is not perfect - we need to know more about why this building won, and why others didn't, perhaps in a published version of the judges' final discussion.The TV coverage was patchy.Some say (falsely) that the ceremony venue held sway over the result, others that there are too many 'lay' judges on the panel.But the bridge is a memorable winner. It should be embraced as such, not reviled for professional pettinesses.

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