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Stirling Prize shortlist: the judges' comments

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Read exclusively the full judges’ citations for all six schemes vying for the RIBA Stirling Prize 2010

Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH

Architect: Rick Mather Architects
Client: University of Oxford and Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology
Contractor: BAM Construction UK
Project Management: Mace
Contract Value: £62 million
Date of completion: October 2009
Gross internal area: 10,000 sq m

The bar for this project could not have been set higher: taking the oldest museum in Britain and increasing display space by 100 per cent while retaining Charles Cockerell’s 1845 Grade I-listed building, resulting in 9,000 square metres of new accommodation that remains largely invisible to the public realm and to do so by means of a single narrow access off St Giles that is only a couple of metres wide – this is real ship in bottle stuff. 

This is a building that clears the bar by a mile to give a world class institution a worthy new home.  It has virtually no external walls but seven different party walls. Yet this is by no means ‘mere’ interior architecture.  Rather it is the culmination of a working lifetime spent by the architect refining the detailing of galleries, houses and restaurants to create a deeply satisfying series of interlocking spaces.    

As museum director Christopher Brown says: ‘This is Rick Mather’s finest building to date, and I have no doubt it’ll be recognised very soon as one of the outstanding museum buildings of the 21st century.’

He is right, this is indeed a world-class building.


Bateman’s Row, London EC2A 3HH 

Architect: Theis and Khan Architects
Client: Soraya Khan and Patrick Theis
Contractor:  Silver Interiors Design & Build
Contract Value: £1.6 million
Date of completion: September 2009
Gross internal area: 867m²

This is a clever development by an architect-client couple for a mix of uses including their home and office. It is on five floors over a basement and completely fills its corner site.  The mix includes four dwellings: the house over three floors, three small flats, the architects’ own studio on the first floor and an Art Gallery on the ground and basement. In section the scheme skilfully adjusts the floor heights, creating taller spaces for the gallery, the studio and the principle living space.

In its response to its surroundings, its scale and its mix of uses, this development defines a vision for the future of Shoreditch. It provides an environment for family-living within a tough urban context and an apartment with qualities that you couldn’t easily find in a house.  It has a fortress-like quality, towering over the hubbub that is Shoreditch on weekend evenings, providing a safe haven and respite for the couple and their offspring.

The architects have found a way of developing a tight, difficult site in a way that is both spatially and aesthetically rich.  It is a relevant piece of city-making that is ordinary in its programme yet is executed with extraordinary care and judgement, taking it into the realms of the special.  This is the kind of building London – and a depressed market – both need a lot more of.  


Christ’s College School, Larch Avenue, Guildford GU1 1JY

Architect: DSDHA
Client: Diocese of Guildford and Surrey County Council
Contractor: Wates Construction
Contract Value: £14.4 million
Date of Occupation: January 2009
Gross internal area: 7,350m²

This clever design for a secondary school is a worthy companion to the adjoining special-needs school by the same architects, which won an RIBA Award in 2009. But whereas that was single storey as befits the needs of young people with many and real learning and physical difficulties, this one achieves a great deal on three compact levels, yet has a gratifying generosity of circulation and inner courtyard spaces.

The five faculties within the school are boldly identified with bright coloured doors in a predominantly grey/black/concrete series of internal finishes, which are subtle, grown–up and calming. The central atrium space has to perform many flexible functions. Flexibility means the tables at one edge of the space accommodate computers for informal teaching; other dining tables can be swept away to allow trampolining or other games – though there is a splendid robust and day lit gym elsewhere.  But primarily this atrium is a meeting place, the true heart of a fine building where the architects seem to have thought of everything. It is a mature piece which will help its pupils mature into rounded adults.

DSDHA have been inspired by their Swiss teaching experience and by their understanding of the needs of British school children who were so woefully served by politicians and by many architects in the later part of the 20th century. It will be tragic if these efforts are stymied by the current economic climate and our response to it. 

Clapham Manor Primary School, London SW4 0BZ

Architect: dRMM
Client: Lambeth AMPD
Contractor: The Construction Partnership
Contract Value:£2.5 million
Date of completion: September 2009
Gross internal area: 927m²

This jewel-like project is a freestanding addition to a 19th Century Board School which, in the words of the designers, ‘plugs into’ the existing building allowing the school to work as a single entity. 

The multi-coloured glass cladding is the first thing which strikes you, but this is no straightforward glass box. The panels, although all glazed externally, internally can be transparent, translucent or opaque. As well as greatly enhancing the energy performance of the building, this arrangement allows for teachers to pin up work on the coloured pin-board lining panels.  It also adds a degree of privacy. 

The form of the building is a simple rectangle occupying the gap between two existing buildings, set out diagonally to the existing school, creating a transparent ‘atrium’ that separates old and new. There is an exciting tension here which re-inforces the conceptual idea and the sense of movement through the shared circulation space.

Overall the project provides an extremely inventive and uplifting example of what the next generation of school buildings could be, it avoids generic solutions and looks to use the very best contemporary thinking about what makes a good education environment. It is also clearly a result of a positive collaboration between the architects, their teams and a strong headmaster with a very clear educational vision.


MAXXI, National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects
Client: Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, Fondazione MAXXI and Ministry of Infrastructure
Contractor: Consortium MAXXI 2006, ITALIANACOSTRUZIONI and Società Appalti Costruzioni
Contract Value: €150 million             
Date of Occupation: November 2009
Gross internal area: 21,200²m

The museum doesn’t feel like Rome, but is all the more exciting for that, locally juxtaposed with army barracks and industrial warehouses, but with glimpses of distant views to Roman roof tops and cupolas. Its suburban context allows it a freedom denied to architects in the centre of Rome. 

This is a museum of paths and routes, a museum where the curators have to invent how to hang and place the works of 21st Century art that have been collected since inception of the project – and the century. The permeable plaza recreates routes and connections, but also forces you to consider the new context that is created to engage with the activities within.  The whole is behind a 2.5 metre high industrial aluminium mesh fence which is there to protect the outdoor art that’s planned.   Its setting has echoes of OMA’s Casa da Musica, an impression re-enforced by the perched box of an upper gallery with its panoramic window, reached by an array of stairs, ramps and lifts. 

MAXXI is described as a building for the staging of art, and whilst provocative at many levels, this project shows a maturity and calmness that belies the complexities of its form and organisation.  The nature of the project means everything has to be overspecified – throughout the design process the architects had no idea what these series of rooms would be used to hang, so walls which will bear a ton of rusting steel might be graced by miniatures.  In use, in addition to the innovative hanging, video projections bounce off the white curves, animating the spaces.

This is a mature piece of architecture, the distillation of years of experimentation, only a fraction of which ever got built.  It is the quintessence of Zaha’s constant attempt to create a landscape, a series of cavernous spaces drawn with a free, roving line.  The resulting piece, rather prescribing routes, gives the visitor a sense of exploration. It is probably her best work to date and shows she was right all along. 


Neues Museum, Museum Island, Berlin, Germany

Architect:   David Chipperfield Architects 
Restoration Architect: Julian Harrap Architects
Client: Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation
Contractor: Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning
Contract Value: €200million
Date of Occupation: October 2009
Gross internal area: 20,500m²

The Neues Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island was designed by Friedrich Stüler, a pupil of Schinkel, and built between 1841 and 1859 to show off the archaeological and scientific prowess of one of Europe’s leading powers.  In a way it was Prussia’s answer to Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851.

The museum houses Egyptian and Pre/Early History archaeological collections and is a centre for active scientific research as well as public dissemination.  This duality lay at the heart of the project organization.  A unique integration of client and science, together with a close collaboration between Chipperfield’s and that most fastidious of conservation architects Julian Harrap, has resulted in an exceptionally coherent and holistic piece of architecture.

The key architectural aim of the project was to reinstate the original volumes and to repair and restore the parts remaining after the war.  The original sequence of rooms was restored by the new spaces thereby creating continuity with the existing structure.

The new spaces are cool and calm but are far from neutral.  From the austerity of the Central Staircase Hall to the soaring light filled Egyptian Courtyard, a great variety of spatial experience is achieved whilst maintaining a coherent architectural expression through the controlled palate of material and detailing.  Precast concrete is the principal structural medium and the overall result is one of consistency, quality and under-stated beauty.  Nothing is left to chance; there are no forgotten or unloved corners here.  This is a museum of architectural history as much as one of archaeology.

The Museum Directorate has laudably resisted the temptation to overface the visitor with exhibits.  Less is indeed more in both the architecture and the display – lessons for other museums and galleries here.  


This year’s judges are: Paul Finch, Paul Monaghan, Cindy Walters, Tom Dyckhoff, Bill Taylor, Peter Clegg, Richard Griffiths, MurrayFraser, Gianni Botsford, Cany Ash, Glenn Howells, Philip Gumuchdjian, and Tony Chapman.


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