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The Stirling shortlist: it's a matter of taste

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Interpret the Stirling shortlist any way you like, but it’s all down to whose style you prefer, says Rory Olcayto

A few weeks ago we published every UK RIBA Award-winning building typologically rather than by region, to better understand British architectural practice. We learned that public building was the strongest category in 2010, with many excellent galleries, while BSF schemes were among the weakest – just one, Cube Design’s Rednock, was a winner.

So it’s no surprise that three galleries made this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist. Zaha Hadid Architects’ MAXXI in Rome, the Neues Museum in Berlin by David Chipperfield with Julian Harrap, and Rick Mather’s Ashmolean in Oxford, all exemplars.

The whole shortlist could have been a parade of galleries. Caruso St John’s Nottingham Contemporary, MUMA’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the V&A and Terry Pawson’s Visual in County Wicklow, Ireland, were strong contenders. So was the Whitechapel Gallery by Robbrecht en Daem with Witherford Watson Mann.

So the inclusion of two schools – dRMM’s Clapham Manor Primary School in London and Christ’s College School, Guildford, by DSDHA – alongside Bateman’s Row, a mixed-use live-work scheme by Theis + Khan, is a pleasant surprise, and one that grants two clear readings of the shortlist. On one hand are the profession’s older guard, at the peak of their powers; on the other, young guns, working between the cracks. Or maybe it’s split this way: iconic, big budget buildings from a passing era on one side; well-crafted low-key structures that, portentously, make creative use of tight budgets on the other. It’s intriguing.

But the most interesting split on the list is not a generational one, nor one of typology – it’s simply style and practice, whether you prefer Zaha or Chippo. The Neues Museum and Maxxi are easily the best buildings here.

When deciding, don’t dismiss MAXXI if you want to rail against the credit crunch or the worst excesses of iconic design – read our building study again for a serious appreciation. And don’t forget Julian Harrap’s role in making Neues so magical.

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