Neither of Richard Rogers’ shortlisted buildings match up to his 2006 Stirling Prize-winning Barajas Airport, says Kieran Long
It’s hard not to see this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist as a vote of confidence in poor, beleaguered millionaire Richard Rogers, after being beaten up by Prince Charles in recent months. Two of the six shortlisted buildings are by him, but neither one is from the top drawer of his practice’s work.
Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ London Maggie’s Centre is weak - the citation implies that the jury was seduced by its poignant programme, but this is not great architecture. The building’s rendered walls are unattractive in their colour, material and proportion, and the architect is unable to reconcile the closedness that this cancer care centre demands with the need to give the building a civic identity.
The practice’s Bodegas Protos winery, on the other hand, is a kind of starchitect project that no one really takes seriously. It is unrepeatable, and not even very beautiful. My colleagues who have visited say it’s a decent, functional building. But again, the facades are an afterthought and the building sits on a plinth.
I don’t want to be unkind to Rogers, but neither project compares with his Barajas Airport in Madrid (which won the Stirling Prize in 2006), and suffer even more in comparison with the Lloyd’s Building or the Pompidou Centre. Both buildings, incidentally, are proof of my adage that Rogers is better at roofs than he is at walls.
Eric Parry Architects’ 5 Aldermanbury Square is very good, and Parry is fast becoming the most serious office architect in London, making buildings of mass and civility. However, if he can’t win for the frankly fantastic Finsbury Square (shortlisted in 2003), he won’t win for this one.
Liverpool One is an intriguing inclusion, which probably got its place for being the masterplan with most RIBA members involved in it. There are great things about it: finally you can walk from the city to Albert Dock (a route with overbearing shopping opportunities) in relative comfort, which is a big improvement, and it tries hard to knit into the city fabric around it. But it’s a monocultural, privately regulated streetscape, filled with high-street multiples and providing little variation in grain. Also, the monumental public space closest to the water is one of the strangest made in recent years, with a big residential tower bookending an elevated, over-manicured green space.
The problem with this Stirling Prize shortlist is that it has nothing to do with good architecture, and everything to do with the jury being given a bit of everything. So we have a health building, a masterplan, an office and an art museum, plus the two superstar typologies of Maggie’s Centre and winery. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’ health centre is another message sent - like the practice’s Westminster Academy in the context of new schools, Kentish Town Health Centre is the best primary care building of a wave of quite mediocre ones.
My own alternative shortlist includes architects who I guess the RIBA thinks will get their time later: Niall McLaughlin, FAT, Buschow Henley and Charles Barclay Architects. Add to these St Martin-in-the-Fields by Parry and Fretton’s Fuglsang Kunstmuseum and that makes a pretty strong list. But I think the RIBA would think it too slight, with too many unproven architects. The list we’re left with is worthy but dull, with too many usual suspects. My prediction for the winner? For what it’s worth, I think Fretton’s crafted, subtle building should win, but with the last-minute jury changes, it’s a lottery.
Kieran Long’s alternative Stirling Prize shortlist
- Deal Pier Café by Niall McLaughlin Architects
- St Benedict’s School by Buschow Henley
- Kielder Observatory by Charles Barclay Architects
- St Martin-in-the-Fields by Eric Parry Architects
- Fuglsang Kunstmuseum by Tony Fretton Architects