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Big Mac or heritage pork?

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They’re the two flavours of architecture today, says Rory Olcayto

There is a satisfying circularity to Haworth Tompkins’ well-deserved and against-the-odds victory in this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize, in that it added to the sense of ‘architecture coming home’. Not only was the awards ceremony held at RIBA’s Portland Place HQ, but the winning scheme is Liverpudlian, just like the architect after whom the prize is named. Result.

The Everyman is bustling, talkative, neighbourly architecture, a convivial building for a convivial city and one that rewrites what we think a sustainable building should be. In this case that means one that is in use throughout the day and into the night, one that is civic-minded. The work of Haworth Tompkins in general, and the Everyman in particular, is the opposite of  iconic architecture, in that, unlike the latter, whose forms make you think of other things - gherkins, sea-creatures, shards of glass and armadillos - it makes you think of … well, architecture. That feels like a victory in itself. Congratulations Haworth Tompkins, from all at the AJ.

Evolve the Stirling Prize

The criteria on which the award is judged seem a bit daft, however. As the RIBA website states, the Stirling Prize is awarded to the ‘architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year’. Sorry, RIBA, but architecture doesn’t evolve that quickly. Here’s a simple fix: change it to respect James Stirling himself.  That way buildings that are awkward, strange, unwieldy, slow-burning, witty, ugly, or possibly even regressive will stand a chance as well.

Rethinking Stephen Lawrence

Congratulations are in order, too, for Denizen Works, and its director Murray Kerr, whose splendid Tiree home, House No 7, for his parents bagged the Stephen Lawrence Prize. It was also in line for the Manser Medal, but that went to Stormy Castle. Well done Loyn & Co! While House No 7 clearly deserved to be awarded at this high level, a house designed for mum and dad seems an odd choice for a prize named after a murder victim whose ambition to become an architect was halted by racist thugs. Kerr himself made this point on the night, saying that the prize should be revised to award community buildings.  That may or may not be the answer for next year and beyond, but one thing is certain, the criteria for this one urgently need a rewrite.

Guggenheim, supersized

If Haworth Tompkins’ Everyman is slow-food architecture (slow-roasted, flavoursome, and in need of chewing 20 times, at least, before you gulp it down), then iconic architecture is like fast food: addictive, tasty, but rarely as satisfying as it first appears. Still, occasionally this much-maligned mode of expression can yield something special, and that must be the hope of the Guggenheim, which has received more than 1,700 entries for its Helsinki museum contest. On page 20 the AJ showcases 100 of those entries - a cross-section of the wide range of designs submitted. In our five-page feature you’ll see the age of the icon, despite the Everyman’s Stirling win, is alive and kicking.

Writing architects off

But can the same be said for the architectural profession itself? No, according to The Economist, which, in the wake of Stirling Prize ceremony last week published a gloomy article predicting the death of the profession. It cast the Stirling Prize as a glitzy distraction from the reality of a construction industry ‘suffering from shrinking demand and rapid structural change’ and ends with a Herman Hertzberger quote: ‘We’re not buried next to the king any more’ to stress architects’ fading opportunities. Food for thought.

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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