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‘The shortlist is relentlessly predictable… it fails to provoke or question’

FAT and Grayson Perry's House for Essex
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Architecture critic Edwin Heathcote on the 2016 RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist

One Oxford college (school for rich kids who will rule the world), one industrial re-use (doubles also as the obligatory Caruso St John listing), one mid-century house (slight Brazilian influence), one nicely detailed corporate campus (doubles as a Scottish entry), one addition to a venerable old building, one good social housing scheme on a controversial development: I think that covers all the bases. No?

The shortlist for this year’s Stirling Prize is relentlessly predictable, right on formula. That isn’t to say that it’s bad – quite the contrary – but it rewards the kind of slightly retro, good-taste modernism which, no matter how well detailed and impeccably mannered, fails to provoke or question.

I know, I know it’s fearsomely difficult just to make good architecture but where is the eccentric, the visionary, the social activist or the lone mad genius? There was some controversy about FAT and Grayson Perry’s A House for Essex missing out but it would have been good to have something to argue about here. Perhaps something a little tasteless or politically provocative. Or something classical, or brutal or colourful – just to stir it up a bit.

This has been a difficult year. This competition represents a chance to discover something new, discuss why we’re interested in architecture at all, give a spark of post-Brexit joy. It would be fine if almost any of these win, they’re all good – but it won’t change the world. And it doesn’t even try.

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