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This year’s Stirling Prize became the focus for violently contesting views

Christine Murray
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Protesters besiege Portland Place while our alternative jury chooses placemaking over architectural detail

The question as to whether one Stirling Prize jury would choose the same winning project as another, posed by AJ architecture editor Laura Mark, was answered last week in The Stirling Prize at 21 documentary, still available to watch on the AJ website. In short, they didn’t.

The RIBA Stirling Prize judges, Patrik Schumacher, Rachel Whiteread, Róisín Heneghan, Paul Monaghan and Mike Hussey, chose Newport Street Gallery by Caruso St John as their winner (with Herzog & de Meuron’s Blavatnik a rumoured close second). It was a great decision, recognising the highest achievement in architectural design in an existing context and flawlessly executed detail.

While housebuilders propagate the myth that the public aspires to noddy boxes, in fact they aspire to Outhouse

But the awarding of the Stirling Prize to Newport Street places contemporary architectural design and its realisation over other considerations, such as budget or political context – a very different approach to that taken by the AJ’s alternative judging panel of Piers Taylor, Daisy Froud, Martyn Evans and Laura Mark, who chose the Riverside campus for City of Glasgow College as their winner. To paraphrase Taylor, at Riverside they found architecture triumphing over the odds: a successful project that came to be despite PFI procurement, tight budgets and cost-cutting. The immaculate architectural detail was not there, but the alternative judges found its broad strokes compelling, hard-working, and fit for purpose as a kind of workaday architecture-for-everyone.

Finally, the public vote went to Loyn & Co’s Outhouse. This is something worth shouting about, too. While housebuilders continue to propagate the myth that the public aspires to noddy boxes, in fact they aspire to this Modernist private home with big glassy views and butch concrete, surprisingly demurely set within a stunning landscape with a green roof. If, as architect Chris Loyn says, ‘The architectural principles of Outhouse are transferable to housing everywhere,’ then this public vote of confidence is a clarion call.

The Stirling Prize party itself was a stranger-than-fiction affair. There were speeches, canapés and genuine enthusiasm for Caruso St John as a worthy winner, but also security brawls, with protesters shouting about social cleansing and gentrification. On several occasions demonstrators breached the perimeter, running towards the Jarvis Hall in balaclavas or climbing onto the rooftop outside the reception to press a sign up against a window. The fracas was greeted with discomfited bemusement and grim acceptance that the estate regeneration programme has meant architects are increasingly engaged in socio-politically loaded projects – architects who work in this sector must be prepared to take the heat.

There were also murmurs about market uncertainty in 2017, and shock at the political rhetoric against foreign workers coming out of the Conservative conference. The underlying feeling was of fear – change is surely coming, but what exactly will it mean for us all?

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Readers' comments (3)

  • 'Estate regeneration programme' is a phrase that might come to be seen in the same light as 'collateral damage' and 'ethnic cleansing', and the fracas outside the Stirling Prize celebrations should surely be giving architects pause for thought, and not just be viewed as the 'usual suspects' airing their prejudices.

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  • Thank you for this brief mention in the otherwise blanket ban on our protest by the architectural press.

    For the record, our catchy chant was: 'Aylesbury Estate: Human Rights Violation / Heygate Estate: Stirling Prize Nomination.'

    The 2016 O. J. Simpson Prize (last year won by RSH+P's Neo Bankside) was awarded to dRMM Architects for Trafalgar Place, built on the demolition of 104 council homes, now placed with 235 unaffordable homes with gated access, security cameras, homeless spikes and security guards nearly as violent as those guarding the RIBA.

    And the inaugural Ben Derbyshire Foot in Mouth Award was won by an overwhelming majority vote for the following comment by the RIBA President elect: ‘Whilst many (me included) are concerned that current housing and planning policies do not serve the ambition to create mixed neighbourhoods particularly well, not everyone believes that public money should be used to subsidise families to live in areas they could not otherwise afford to.’

    The often repeated lie that council housing is subsidised by public money is a myth propagated by the property developers and councils that want the land they are built on, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of the RIBA as an institution to hear it repeated from the mouth of its future President. What stops the families Ben Derbyshire so loftily dismisses from their neighbourhoods from being able to afford to live there any longer is precisely the demolition of the council estates they have called home for decades and their replacement with the luxury apartments the RIBA has seen fit to nominate for this year’s Stirling Prize.

    Unfortunately, although it was a fine evening, very few architects came out to talk to us this year, though we saw much sniggering and tittering from behind your champagne flutes. But if anyone cares to know about the reasons for our protest, see our report here:
    https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/stirling-prize-protest-2016/

    See you next year, if not before.

    Simon Elmer
    Architects for Social Housing

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  • Councillor: John, Peter OBE
    Registered gifts and hospitalities:
    06/10/2016 - Ticket to RIBA Stirling Prize 2016 awards offered by Lend Lease Ltd: value £235

    You really have no shame, do you?

    http://moderngov.southwarksites.com/mgListGifts.aspx?UID=189&RPID=620683073

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