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The Stirling Prize: singing the praises of the ones that got away


When such a popular show-stopping winner makes off with the Stirling Prize, the other buildings on the shortlist are in danger of being overlooked.Not that it was ever a danger for Foster's Great Court.Gargantuan in terms of technological know-how, public profile, block-busting budget and sheer panache, it was tailor-made for controversy and debate.At the other end of the scale, the significance of the two mavericks on the shortlist is well rehearsed. It is perfectly possible to combine a responsible attitude to the environment with successful housing; it is perfectly possible to be a pioneering sustainability guru and still be up for glittering awards; it doesn't have to be a one-off iconic building to be a contender for the Stirling Prize (BedZED). It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to be pricey. It doesn't have to be useful. It doesn't have to be easily accessible from the South East.And art and architectural collaborations don't have to result in embarrassing bolt-on extras (Tiree).

But what of the quieter nominees? Finsbury Square got a rough ride in the Stirling Prize coverage on Channel 4 and even its supporters tend to limit their critique to the irregular load-bearing stone facade, giving the distinct impression that there is nothing much to shout about inside.Which is true.Shouting is not in Eric Parry's vocabulary.There is, however, a working environment of almost flawless perfection - without being as uninteresting as such a description suggests.The time-worn vocabulary of uninterrupted steel and glass is replaced with unexpected textures and colours: oxblood lacquer and translucent mint green with echoes of art deco; blinds that act like Japanese shoji screens, bathing offices in an ethereal light.The same delight in the poetic possibilities of materials is evident in Ian Ritchie's TR2, where a palette of bronze mesh and pebbles informs an architecture with the mysterious salty romance of the sea.

These are buildings that represent a coming of age in architecture; an understanding that the efficiency, economy and rigour of Modernism can coexist with a richly evocative aesthetic that responds to its surroundings and draws on the past.

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