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London bias in Stirling judging, claims Bennetts

Rab Bennetts, whose RSC Theatre project in Stratford has been shortlisted for this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize, has claimed the prestigious award is biased against schemes outside London

Speaking to the Scotland on Sunday, Bennetts also said that judges had overlooked a raft of quality buildings in Scotland for the annual £20,000 prize which recognises the ‘Best of British’ architecture.

The last Scottish building to be named among the Stirling Prize finalists was the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, designed by EMBT and RMJM, which went onto win the award in 2005.

Bennetts said: ‘The design world in the UK has always gravitated towards London and architecture is no exception. This doesn’t apply so much to professions like medicine, for example.  Denise and I left Edinburgh for London in the late ‘70s because there was no work around then and it’s just the same now, but there is no shortage of talent among architects based in Scotland.  

He added: ‘Opportunities are fewer, but I can’t pretend that the London-centric nature of our profession isn’t a factor too.’

Neil Baxter, the secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects Scotland (RIAS), said the situation had become so intolerable it was considering setting up its own awards in addition to the institute’s annual Doolan Prize.

He said: ‘In the last three years we have had the likes of Ian Ritchie, George Ferguson and Piers Gough have come to our RIAS Convention and told us our new buildings are comparable to the best of anything in the UK and Europe.

‘Yet none are making the Stirling longlist, let alone the shortlist. The RIBA is understandably obsessed with it Home Counties focus. May be that’s where most of its members live. Inevitably people will vote for their own’

Baxter said the RIAS was working with the RIBA on the possibility of a new award for Scotland, launched with a joint branding.

Responding to the claims of bias Tony Chapman, head of awards at RIBA, told the newspaper: ‘Four Scottish buildings have made the Stirling Prize shortlist in the last ten years which doesn’t sound great, but then there are only six buildings shortlisted. We have a system which is as fair as possible where RIAS recognise the first round of judging and pass things on to us to judge further. In the end, you’ve got to give the awards to what we believe are the best buildings. Sometimes we’ve got it wrong but we’ve seen some great buildings in Scotland.

‘As for Scotland breaking away from the Stirling Prize, we would be very sad if that were to happen because we want to be able to say ‘we think this is the best building in the UK’ and of course we would no longer be able to do that.’

Other comments: Chris Stewart at Collective Architecture

I’m sure that the Stirling Prize is not deliberately anti-Scottish but does appear to be London-centric probably as a result of the concentration of activity in that area. With the exception of the Irish entry all the nominations appear to be by London based practices - however we were pleased to see that some were constructed in other parts of the UK. Considering the world class quality of Elder and Cannon’s Shettleston project it is a travesty that this was not shortlisted especially considering the funding and nature of the building.

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