Six schemes, ranging from a relatively unknown regeneration scheme in Coventry by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard to an iconic art gallery in Austria by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, have made it on to the shortlist for this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize, in association with the AJ.
The list, revealed exclusively this week, also includes two very different buildings by Foster and Partners: the Business Academy Bexley and London’s latest landmark, 30 St Mary Axe - commonly known as the Swiss Re Tower or the ‘erotic gherkin’.
The remaining schemes that will fight it out to succeed the 2003 winner - Herzog & de Meuron’s Laban Centre - are Daniel Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North in Salford and Ian Ritchie Architects’ Spire in Dublin.
However, the most prominent aspect of the shortlist, and the one most likely to send ripples throughout architecture, are two surprising omissions: Future Systems’ Selfridges in Birmingham and the Maggie’s Centre in Dundee by Frank Gehry.
With the shortlist now public, attention will turn to which is favourite to pick up the prize at the awards ceremony in London’s Billingsgate on 16 October. Early predictions put Cook and Fournier’s Kunsthaus in Graz as a frontrunner, with its huge local popularity and successful public realm.
Although the scheme seems to have everything going for it, there is a chance it could be one of the first casualties of the anti-icon movement, brought to a head by Graham Morrison with his attack on the public’s relentless appetite for iconic architecture at the AJ/Bovis Awards in July (AJ 8.7.04). The same could be said of Fosters’ ‘erotic gherkin’, the building that will surely be the choice of London’s cab-driving community and has been made favourite by bookmakers William Hill.
Inevitably the age-old debate of ‘what is architecture?’ will crop up yet again with the shortlisting of Ritchie’s Spire. Cynics will point out that the construction - greeted with acclaim by Dubliners - is less a building and more a monument achieved by an impressive feat of engineering.
The outsider this year is likely to be MacCormac Jamieson Prichard’s Phoenix Initiative. With its successful mix of art and architecture, the scheme has reinvented Coventry city centre. However, it will inevitably suffer the same problems as the Spire, with many purists questioning whether it is truly an architectural exercise.
This year’s list will also represent a relief for the regional lobby, who will be delighted that only two of the last six can be found in London and of these only one is in the City, with Foster’s Bexley city academy sited in the suburbs.
Only one thing is clear from the shortlist for Stirling 2004, and that is that nothing is clear. With the race as open as it has been for years, only a brave architect would put money on the winner.
l See Editorial, p26.
ODDS 4-1 MacCormac Jamieson Prichard’s 50 million Phoenix Initiative, which successfully regenerated a large swathe of central Coventry, was developed with artists Susanna Heron, Chris Browne, David Ward, Kate Whiteford, Francoise Schein, Jochen Gerz, Alex Beleschenko and poet David Morley. Although seen as an outsider, the scheme was described by the judges as an ‘inspiration’ that ‘forges visible and physical connections’.
ODDS 5-1 Foster and Partners’ Business Academy Bexley - one of the few school buildings to win a RIBA Award this year - was described as a ‘bold first step in transforming the desolate surroundings and restoring pride to the surrounding community’. The scheme should win praise for both its aspirations and achievements, but is unlikely to become the first education building to pick up the prize.
ODDS 5-2 30 St Mary Axe, which has been taken to heart by Londoners throughout the city as the ‘erotic gherkin’, must be seen as a serious contender. However, observers suspect that questions over its interior fit-out by t p bennett may count against it. Those who shortlisted the 40-storey tower said that its ‘iconic status’, sustainable credentials, elegant entrance and landscaping made for a ‘memorable building of international standing’.
ODDS 5-1 While the 20 million Imperial War Museum North certainly has its detractors, the impact this building has had on Salford in particular, and Greater Manchester in general, will keep Libeskind’s first British building in the running. Although the judges praised the external designs, they were most delighted with the museum’s interiors. ‘The most remarkable achievement of the design is the ease with which one moves or flows around this apparently jarring and jagged series of shapes, ’ they said.
ODDS 4- 1 The .40 million (27 million) Kunsthaus in Graz, by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, is possibly the most striking project on the list, with its cultural status, iconic impact and local popularity. There is also likely to be support among the professional members of the judging panel for the nearest thing to an Archigram building. The citation particularly praises the building for the ‘gentleness with which it treats Graz and its inhabitants’.
ODDS 3-1 Ian Ritchie’s Spire in Dublin competes with the Phoenix Initiative as the enigma on the list. The judges’ citation praised the project - which faced serious planning objections at its inception - as a ‘true icon for a European city, confident of itself and its ability to produce cultural statements of significance’. The only question for the judges is whether this massively popular monument is an architectural achievement.
THE WINNERS SO FAR 2003 The aban Centre, Deptford, London, by Herzog & de Meuron 2002 Gateshead Millennium Bridge, by Wilkinson Eyre Architects 2001 Magna Centre, Rotherham, by Wilkinson Eyre Architects 2000 Peckham ibrary nd Media Centre, by Alsop & Str Architects 1999 NatWest Media Centre, Lord’s, London, by Future Systems 1998 American Air Museum, Duxford, by Foster and Partners 1997 Staatliche Hochschule ur Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Stuttgart, by James Stirling, Michael Wilford & Associates, succeeded by Michael Wilford & Partners 1996 University f alford Centenary Building, by Hodder Associates