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Stirling Prize 2012: The profession reacts

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What architects are saying about this year’s winner - Stanton Williams’ Sainsbury Laboratory

Gabrielle Omar, from The Apprentice, said: ‘The scheme has grown on me. I had wanted the Lyric. But having seen the short film about the Sainsbury laboratory it I do understand why it won – the practice has clearly put blood sweat and tears into this project. The architects have clearly listened to the client and designed a building for both what they need now and in the future. This shines out in every single detail. It is a serious piece of architecture which will stand the test of time. It is also a good representation of what architects do and didn’t win because the judges were pressured into it [because of any political reasons].  

Laura Lee, chief executive of the Maggie’s Centres, said: ‘Of course we are gutted not to have won[OMA/Gartnavel]. But as someone who is providing cancer care I’m really pleased that an architect has delivered a faculty for research into a subject which could influence people working in our area. I hope the Stirling Prize isn’t political and it is about the best architecture. If there is a message it is that our environments, whether it is to deliver care or making money, should be inspiring.

It could be argued the Stirling Prize is as much for a body of work as a single building

Hanif Kara of AKTII, the engineers on the Sainsbury Laboratory, said: ‘I was ecstatic at this surprise winner. Once you took out the Olympic Stadium it was the toughest year for many. I’d been expecting either the Hepworth or the Lyric. The most important message is how Stanton Williams has incrementally mastered its craft of shifting building types. This is after all a laboratory. Personally as a promoter of British architects I hope they get a shot at doing international laboratories. As an engineering company it is the best concrete we have ever seen - the result of an incredible contractor/designer attitude and a collaboration other contractors can learn from.

Simon Wallis, director of the Hepworth Gallery, said: ‘I want to be a gracious loser with regard to the Stirling Prize, but it was especially hard to lose to a building with an enormous budget - dwarfing ours - in an extremely privileged city, and a project to which the public barely have access.

It was especially hard to lose to a building with an enormous budget

‘It isn’t a building that excites me at all from the photographs I’ve seen, but of course I reserve full judgement until I do, if I ever get access to it.
It’d be good too if some of the judges of the Stirling Prize were from the north or lived in the north of England.’

Alex Ely, mae architects, said: ‘Stanton Williams had three scheme this year which could have made it onto the shortlist [the others being Central Saint Martins and the Hackney Marshes sports centre/changing rooms]. However I do feel very sorry for O’Donnell + Tuomey, because the Lyric is such a fine building. While the Sainsbury Laboratory had a luxurious context to work in, the Lyric theatre was built in a very challenging environment with layers of both physical and political history. This has been the strongest shortlist for a while. I was a bit dubious about the Maggie’scentre, but I haven’t been and perhaps the images don’t do it justice.’

Paul Monaghan, AHMM, said: ‘It is a good result and great that the obvious projects didn’t win. It is a tribute to the practice’s consistently brilliant work over the last 20 years. That scheme is the culmination of all that work. But for the first year I would have been happy with any of the shortlisted schemes winning – all the finalists were of such a high quality. This is unusual as it is often a race between two frontrunners. However in terms of future shortlists I fear there is going to be a gap [in quality] for the next two to three years. The recession started in 2008 and things were still going to site then [and this year’s shortlist were the last of those projects].’

John Assael of Assael Architecture, said: ‘I was backing the laboratory, so I’m delighted for Stanton Williams. I’m glad it was not another gallery. It was a bit of architecture providing services people. Art galleries are easy. [It is similar] to when Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios won the prize a few years ago for the housing project – that was a breath of fresh air.’

Jack Pringle, former RIBA President, said: ‘The field was immensely strong this year – possibly the strongest we are likely to see for a while with the recession and more austere projects. The judges made a compelling case for it and it is a worthy winner. Congratulations to Susie Sainsbury [the client] who persuade everyone at Cambridge to have the right shortlist to compete for the project which has ended up creating the right environment for the scientists and a laboratory which is truly different in the UK. It may not be a cheap building, but it is not extravagant either. With its flexibility and high performance it is good value for money. The building will still be standing in 50 or 60 years, by which time it will have paid for itself many times over.  If there is a single message it’s that clients shouldn’t waste money on bad architecture – they should invest in good architecture.’

Kevin Singh, head of Birmingham’s School of Architecture, said: ‘Architecture won, not politics. Stanton Williams’ work is terrific and this has validated that. They came across to be so humble and totally deserve it. I haven’t spoken to anybody here who begrudges them and in an industry which, at this level, is so competitive, that also says something about [Paul and Alan] as people as well. [Critics] may say it is about the money, but like Manchester City you’ve got to spend to win and get quality.’   

Ruth Reed, former RIBA president, said: ‘I’m on the record saying the laboratory would win [before tonight] It is a beautiful and elegant piece of architecture. Both the Hepworth and the Lyric were buildings of the head. But there is something sublime about the winner. If there is any message, it is that architecture has won.’

The win is proper recognition for the masters of restraint and understated modernism

Lindsay Urquhart of Bespoke Careers, said: ‘I thought Chipperfield’s Hepworth gallery was going to win – however for once it was the scientist and not the artist who was victorious.’

Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash said: ‘It was great to see the Stirling Prize hosted in Manchester and to see such a strong shortlist. I was pleased to see Stanton Williams win and to see the incredible generosity of Lord Sainsbury in sponsoring such a great project.’

Rab Bennetts of Bennetts Associates said: ‘Great patronage by the Sainsburys: a beautifully executed scheme: well deserved recognition. Stanton Williams’ work has been at a consistently high level throughout [Paul and Alan’s] careers.So it could be argued that the Stirling Prize is as much for a body of work as a single building. It was a good year and difficult to separate several possible winners.’

Stanton Williams picking up the 2012 Stirling Prize for the Sainsbury Laboratoy in Cambridge (October 2012

Stanton Williams picking up the 2012 Stirling Prize for the Sainsbury Laboratoy in Cambridge (October 2012

Tony Kettle, design principal at Kettle Collective, said: ‘Stanton Williams’ win is proper recognition for the masters of restraint, understated modernism beautifully detailed and with a outstanding knowledge and use of materials. Every Stanton Williams design would seem to have degrees of these qualities but the reason this building is more special than anything they have done before and anything else on the list this year is the completeness of the design and beauty of the construction combined. The Prize this year goes not to the architect for his dream but to the whole design and construction team who have obviously worked seamlessly together to deliver a building as a sublime ballet. Poise and balance, extreme but effortless cantilevers give the building elegance and grace. The technological necessities of the lab building are dealt with quickly, the higher function of uplifting the scientists to do their best work has been the real challenge and this is the real success.’ 

Ed Park of PARKDesigned said: ‘I was a little surprised by the winner, but in a very positive way. This result provides inspiration to the 99 per cent of practices - you don’t have to be a big name or work on an iconic building to win the Stirling Prize. Well-considered and thoughtful architecture still has its place. A great result for the profession.’

Alan Dunlop of Alan Dunlop Architects said: ‘Often the Stirling Prize winner appears to be a compromise.The laboratory however is immaculate, pared and beautifully executed. Stanton Williams sits below the international radar, which is a puzzle for the practice has a portfolio of excellent buildings and a commitment to craft. The practice’s attitude to the importance of hand drawing in architecture is known to me, so I am delighted.’


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