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Stirling Prize 2012: too much Koolhaas and no Khan

AJ editor Christine Murray gives her verdict on the Stirling Prize finalists - and the ones that got away

It is not exactly the Stirling Prize shortlist we expected, although it is not far off.

The shortlisting of Populous’ Olympic Stadium for the London 2012 Games was the least surprising nomination on the list. News that it had made the shortlist broke a week ago when the Olympic Delivery Authority claimed as much in their annual report. Their announcement was more than a little premature, as the official shortlist was acutally decided by the RIBA Awards group the following day. Yet it would have been seen as an Olympic failure and triggered a storm in a teacup had London’s 2012 centrepiece not been nominated as one of the year’s six best buildings.

As for Stanton Williams, I have to admit that I expected Central St Martins to make the shortlist over the Sainsbury’s Laboratory, mainly because the first client got more than they paid for, while the other building accomplished as much or more, but with a more extravagant budget. In either case, the practice’s presence on the shortlist was expected, it was a question of which building, rather than if. I’m sure their Hackney Marshes building was considered for the shortlist too.

It does feel unfair that a single practice holds two spots on the six strong list, as OMA does with both the Rothschild Bank and Maggie’s Centre Gartnavel. Although the prize is for the best building, it still feels as though the judges might have shared the love a bit in choosing one, as they have done with David Chipperfield, with Wakefield but not Margate (the right choice).

Brockholes Visitor Centre by Adam Khan Architects

Source: Ioana Marinescu

Where was it? Brockholes Visitor Centre by Adam Khan Architects

While I can understand the jury’s challenge in choosing between both excellent OMA buildings, the degree of difficulty of Rothschild was surely greater. Selecting one of the two OMAs would have left room for Adam Khan’s Brockholes, which was the majority prediction (38.5 per cent) of 400 AJ readers who thought it would be shortlisted. I suspect it was the skill of Brockholes’ construction, rather than its design, which eliminated it. O’Donnell and Tuomey’s Lyric theatre is the sixth building on the list, it’s presence anticipated and a strong contender for the top prize too.

Taken together, it is an interesting shortlist which, as Joseph Rykwert said of architecture at the AJ’s British Architecture Now event at the RIBA last week, perhaps tells us more about the state of the world than we would otherwise dare vocalise - especially a tower for Rothschild bank that looks down on the Bank of England. But more important for the prize is what these six buildings will say to the public about architects.

The fact that early commentary on Twitter referred to the Stirling Prize line-up as an ‘austerity’ shortlist suggests early confusion that, despite their retrained appearance and lack of bling, these are all very expensive buildings. As Charles Holland of FAT tweeted (@fatcharlesh) the ‘Stirling Prize debate is confusing austerity (no money) with austere (sober, grey, discreetly expensive).’ Given the bad press this year about profligate architects and architecture, this misunderstanding may be no bad thing.

The AJ is proud to support the Stirling Prize as official trade media partner.

 

Readers' comments (2)

  • I am so pleased to see the Olympic Stadium on the short list. Before the Hillsborough Disaster in 1990 spotrs stadia facilities and design were appaliing. Hillsbough changed all that and suddenly the quiality of sports stadia design rocketed. When I gave the President's Building of the Year Award in 1996 (replaced the following year with the first Stirling Prize) to the new Huddersfield Stadium the Guardian expressed suprise that a football stadium could get such an award. Basically the same practice designed Arsenal's Emirates Stadium for which they have received insufficient credit for its design qualiy and built on time to budget.
    Despite the quality of the other contenders I hope the Olympic Stadium (by the same architects) wins as it will demonstrate so clearly to the world the difference architects (working with creative engineers) can acheive in changing what was such a "nobody cares about design" building type into top quality architecture that works and gives great pleasure to those who use it and see it.
    Owen Luder CBE PPRIBA.

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  • Brockholes should be there. Stadium is great as a piece of engineering and planning butt not great architecture. lyrics could win it as architecture and urban design all round subtlety. Looking back at previous short lists this is not a bad crop and with at least two or three worthy potential winners

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