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AJ exclusive: Judges shed light on Stirling Prize judging

The AJ offers an exclusive behind the scenes insight into the UK’s largest architectural trophy as the jury reveal their experiences of the judging process

Nicholas Grimshaw

Nicholas Grimshaw

Nicholas Grimshaw, Grimshaw, chairman of the judging panel
I feel that experiencing the buildings physically has been incredibly valuable for all of us. We have looked in every nook and cranny. We have felt the texture of the materials. We have glimpsed them from side streets and through landscaping.  Most importantly, we met the architects, the clients and the users. We are quite a diverse panel but there was a common understanding between us. We have been presented with six projects of true quality. As Chair, I now believe we will have no difficulties in choosing the winner of the prize by consensus.

Naomi Cleaver

Naomi Cleaver

Naomi Cleaver, interior designer and television presenter
‘Every year’s Stirling Prize is a comment on trends in architecture and if we are to use this year’s list as a barometer then what is happening in architecture now is very much more about exquisite tailoring, beautiful craftsmanship, and incredibly thoughtful, careful ideas. Compared to previous lists where there were some rather ostentatious buildings, this year features innovation that is not attention grabbing but much more discreet – the opposite of brash.

‘It was an incredible privilege to visit the shortlisted buildings, especially since you are effectively getting a private view with the architect describing their scheme. The visits were a joy with the only drama occurring one evening over dinner when we got into a debate over Santiago Calatrava, architecture versus engineering and the pursuit and meaning of beauty – it did get rather heated. Great fun!’

Hilde Daem

Hilde Daem

Hilde Daem, co-founder of Robbrecht & Daem
‘As a Belgian architect I was surprised – in a good way – about the quality, not only of the architecture, but also of the building, which was technically impressive. It’s good that the RIBA Stirling Prize can show that you can make good architecture that is not throwaway. These will all be useful buildings in the future. The selection is a sign of our times, a sign of us all taking more care of our universe, not only of material things, but also of humanity.’

Mark Jones

Mark Jones

Mark Jones, master of St Cross College, Oxford, and former V&A director
‘The judging process is a much more intensive way of looking at a building than I’ve ever experienced. The only building I really knew before [the judging] was the Hepworth Gallery, so there were surprises. I was particularly surprised by the Maggie’s Centre at Gartnavel. A thoughtful, beautiful building. I associate Rem Koolhaas with highly idiosyncratic buildings – but here the personality of the designer was subjugated to the needs of the client and user.
‘Meanwhile The Lyric was very warm and successful in creating spaces people want to inhabit. The Sainsbury’s laboratory was incredibly elegant. These impressions crystallised over time and my feelings were reinforced.

‘There are probably a couple of buildings that we already know won’t win the prize and perhaps two that are clear frontrunners. Choosing between them is going to be very difficult.
‘Clearly it is impossible comparing a stadium with an office with an art gallery. So you have to judge them against what they were intended for. The Stirling Prize remains important to the public. The quality of the built environment matters enormously - nothing is more damaging to our sense of ourselves than spirit-sapping townscape. Anything that fights against that and asserts the importance of good design is very valuable.

Joanna van Heyningen

Joanna van Heyningen

Joanna van Heyningen, partner, van Heyningen and Haward Architects
‘It was very valuable to have been involved in the selection of the the 6 short-listed projects – and of course that in itself was very difficult, because the mid-list was very strong. Choosing the winner this year will be tough, because the quality of all the projects was very high, in their different ways. Our discussions over dinner at the end of each long day’s visits made it clear that the decision is all still very much up in the air. I think we will all go into Saturday morning’s final judging session without a fixed position; I certainly will.’  

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