Paul Finch - AJ
Judging the Stirling Prize was fun. It was also a test of the organising powers of Tony Chapman. Our first problem was the events of 11 September. Janet Street-Porter was stuck in Los Angeles for several days. We decided to visit Eden anyway, and she made her own trip later. Will Alsop had already been, so it was left to Alice Rawsthorn, Marco Goldschmied and myself to catch the early train to St Austell. We were accompanied by Channel 4's production team, which wired us for sound and filmed us striding down the platform, Reservoir Dogs-style.
Our verdict on Eden: magnificent biomes, elements not so great. Our next visit was to Wilkinson Eyre's Magna, with Janet still absent (she went later), but joined by Will.We enjoyed the building, the treatment, and the exhibits: a seamless flow of architectural and design ideas. Comparisons were beginning to be made with Eden.
Janet joined us for an early flight to see Michael Wilford's British Embassy in Berlin.
The ambassador was subjected to tough questions on what constituted the 'Britishness' of the embassy.Verdict: impressive idea informing the major spaces, some worries about the more prosaic spaces.
Our last day was the most intense. First up was the Highgate House (Eldridge Smerin): not necessarily breaking new ground, but absolutely beautiful. Then The Surgery in Hammersmith (Guy Greenfield):
brilliant outside, not so great at the back, pretty good inside. The National Portrait Gallery extension (Jeremy Dixon.Edward Jones): brilliant spatial analysis, then pretty straightforward. And, finally, Westminster Underground Station and Portcullis House (Michael Hopkins): everyone, apart from myself, moaned about the architecture above ground, loved it below.
Final judging was at the British Museum on the afternoon of the awards. After an hour or so we moved to an anonymous vote.
It was a two-horse race. Tony took our voting cards, said there was a winner, and left us in suspense. The favourite did not win. It seems to be the only predictable thing about the Stirling Prize . . .
Will Alsop - previous winner
I had an open mind during the visits to the buildings, although clearly Eden seemed to be the favourite. But I am pretty sure that if Hopkins had entered just Westminster Underground Station without the ponderous building on top of it, it would have won.
Observing my fellow judges, and from my own reactions during visits to the shortlisted projects, it became clear in the end that this was perhaps not the most inspiring list.
I felt it was a worthy collection of buildings, but couldn't get out of my mind questions like 'Where is the Tate?' and 'Where is Zaha in Germany?' This reflects the way the Stirling Prize works: architects have to put forward their own buildings. If they don't enter they won't be considered, and non-RIBA members are barred from entering altogether.
What I particularly liked about Magna was that it was a relatively low budget building and you did not feel you were being manipulated. And I liked the way it actually worked. You can park near the building.
When you enter you are not confronted by a whole lot of shopping opportunities - and you never had the feeling that this was about to happen.
At the Eden Project, by contrast, you have to park and then take a bus. When you finally get there you are fully aware that Eden is a a great commercial opportunity.
You enter the pit, and then the biomes - which are spectacular - and then pass through the restaurant. The biome interiors are great but I am not sure about the proportions. And why domes anyway?
I was also very impressed by the integration between the architecture and the exhibition design at Magna. There was a lot of breathing space between the four or five main attractions and these allowed you to appreciate the existing building.
The role of the client is always crucial for any successful building and at Magna it was clear that the client, Stephen Feber, was so well-informed that he had become part of the design team. Magna was a clear winner to me.