The AJ’s Jon Astbury takes a critical look at the six buildings in contention for UK architecture’s top prize
Big money and big universities dominate what is by all accounts a serious and heavyweight clutch of schemes vying for this year’s Stirling Prize. There’s some affinity here with 2015’s shortlist, which featured MUMA’s Whitworth, Níall McLaughlin Architects’ Darbishire Place and Heneghan Peng’s architecture school for the University of Greenwich. The big difference is that 2015’s list famously pitted social against private housing, while here – and even at this year’s national stage – housing has been woefully underrepresented, with the exception of Groupwork + Amin Taha’s 15 Clerkenwell Close and Karakusevic Carson and Henley Halebrown’s Kings Crescent Estate.
That is, unless you are a student; Henley Halebrown’s Chadwick Hall for the University of Roehampton is the most surprising inclusion in this shortlist. It’s a strong scheme, but beyond some interesting visual and formal nods to Georgian and Modernist architecture, one wonders what won it such appeal with the jury.
Bloomberg prompts an eye-roll – a great collection of products and gimmicks but architecturally vapid
It is great to see MUMA’s Storeys Field Centre included as an example of what a good civic building should be when acting as the ‘glue’ for an entirely new bit of urbanity. Waugh Thistleton’s Bushey Cemetery, too, while it feels as though it has been around the awards mill already, is a wonderful combination of materials striving for Asplund-like perfection and not always falling short.
The inclusion of Níall McLaughlin’s beautifully crafted University of Oxford project comes as no surprise, and it is good to see Jamie Fobert’s Tate St Ives extension representing a messier sort of spatial negotiation and extension (and much more assured than the practice’s work at Kettle’s Yard) amid stand-alone works on beautiful sites.
Bloomberg prompts an eye-roll. It is a predictable inclusion, a great collection of products and gimmicks that seems almost too big to fail but is architecturally vapid. But in general, a little more scale here would have been welcome, something a little more relatable, or a few schemes like last year’s winner, Hastings Pier, that prompt the difficult but interesting questions of what the prize is supposed to be for.