Kieran Long on the Stirling Prize jury, and why the Maggie's Centre won
Leader: The Stirling jury represented two extremes, with Maggie’s caught in the middle, says Kieran Long
Congratulations go to Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for winning the Stirling Prize in what has been a tough year for the practice. Maggie’s Centre is a humane piece of architecture that perhaps caught the mood of the times. In retrospect, a Stirling jury was probably never going to give the prize to a temple to shopping (Liverpool One), nor the two seemingly luxurious international projects.
My view is that this jury was unlikely ever to agree on anything much, and that Maggie’s Centre represented decent common ground. You can imagine John Tuomey and Stephen Bates (who had never met before appearing on the jury together) being temperamentally similar, interested in a typological post-modernism as well as in craft and understated dignity. I also imagine that they were in almost direct disagreement with Thomas Heatherwick, a sculptor who is interested in novelty and boundary-pushing.
The remaining jury members are harder to speculate about, but I guess this panel did represent two extremes of a contemporary debate. One side says that architecture should always be progressing, that innovation is what is important. The other side states that it is vital to reconnect not just with the history of architecture, but with the history of the city and the vestiges of a communal public life.
Curiously, perhaps the absent juror who would have been most able to bring these tendencies together is Benedetta Tagliabue’s late husband Enric Miralles. The importance of the Barcelonan’s early work with Carme Pinós came from its ability to transform prosaic bits of the city into places of gently cosmic significance. I can’t think of many British architects today who have that ability.
The genius of the Maggie’s Centre is in the brief: a gentle, domestic environment that comforts people in need. RSHP’s bright orange walls do nothing for me, but it’s clear that these instititutions are fabulous and it’s easy to imagine how a jury would be seduced by the feeling of a building doing good.
The great British hopes for next year’s prize, though, demand a unified jury. David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum, Tony Fretton’s embassy in Warsaw and Caruso St John’s Nottingham Contemporary art gallery need a less polarised discussion than I speculate took place this year in order for their value to be understood.