Marco Goldschmied talks to the AJ about the founding of the Stephen Lawrence Prize and why it remains as relevant today as when it was set up in 1998
Why did you decide to set up the award? What did you want to achieve?
In 1998 I was chairing the RIBA Awards and the Stirling Prize was launched. It coincided with the publication of the McPherson report on the police mishandling of its investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 and with the fact that, had he lived, Stephen would have been on the point of graduating as an architect. The Stirling Prize was inevitably going to go to major buildings by established practices. It occurred to me that smaller, less ‘establishment’ projects, which might be entrusted to younger architects (either working on their own or in a larger practice), deserved to be recognised. The intention through the Marco Goldschmied Foundation was to create a lasting memorial to Stephen himself and, by the establishment of an architectural bursary administered by the Stephen Lawrence Trust, also help architecture students in the years to come.
How has it changed over the years?
Maybe it hasn’t changed enough. The prize has been running for almost 20 years. Doreen Lawrence [Stephen’s mother] and I ought to review it. A lot has changed in the profession and in the way buildings are designed and procured. Unlike many other awards which have come and gone over the years, or where prize money has been intermittent, the Stephen Lawrence Prize and bursary has remained completely consistent. In particular I would like to increase the value of the bursaries to reflect the rapidly escalating cost of studying architecture but, at the present time, that is not possible.
Does it send a message about the state of the architectural profession at any one time?
We have been consistently astonished at the range and ingenuity of all the 100 or so projects shortlisted over the last 18 years. They have each had to overcome daunting challenges imposed by absurd planning constraints or limited budgets or adverse site conditions (or all three at once!).
It was initially set up to recognise younger architects, but some of the winners have actually been well established. Does this clash with its foundations?
No – the prize opens the door to young architects but it wasn’t set up with that as its purpose. It was set up in the memory of Stephen Lawrence and as a reminder that society cannot afford to be complacent [and believe] issues such as racism have been ’solved’. We have consistently judged the projects for their architectural excellence not the age of the architects involved, but the emphasis on smaller projects has given the opportunity for relatively younger architects to at least be shortlisted if not win.
Which has been your favourite Stephen Lawrence Prize winner?
Doreen Lawrence and I asked each other that very question last year and both agreed our favourite winning project was the Sackler Crossing at Kew [by John Pawson, pictured], not least because it is a brilliant and elegant solution in terms of its context and its contribution to opening up a hitherto neglected area of Kew Gardens.
Are there any projects you thought should have been on the list but have missed out?
Inevitably every year there are always some that come close to being shortlisted just as there have been some shortlisted ones that came very close to winning.