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?