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Reaction to Hadid's Stirling Prize win: 'There was a collective groan'


The decision to give this year’s Stirling Prize to Zaha Hadid’s Evelyn Grace Academy is met by shock, surprise and even anger

George Ferguson, former president of the RIBA:
‘This is an appalling result and the worst decision since the Magna Centre beat Girmshaw’s Eden Project to win the Stirling Prize in 2001. It’s a great big own goal. It is also the worst possible message to send to [education secretary] Michael Gove. In fact it reinforces his case. A good school is one that can be replicated. But this can’t. It’s a one-off. The prize [has become] an award from architects for architects. It makes me angry.’

Russell Brown of Hawkins Brown:
‘Zaha’s scheme is an icon and seems less about place. It is not the message that the RIBA should be sending out about educational buildings. There is a political agenda in the judges nominating a school. It is a sad state of affairs that user-driven architecture is worth commenting on by the judges. A scheme is only architecture when it satisfies it’s occupants

Rab Bennetts of shortlisted practice Bennetts Associates:
‘When the Stirling winner was announced there was a palpable sense of shock across the room. We hadn’t expected to beat the velodrome, but I had Zaha’s school down as the least likely to win. However overall a great night and we’re really pleased for RSC [the winner of the RIBA client of the year award]. And the theatre came across well in the film.’

This year the Stirling Prize did not go to the best building

Stephen Hodder, a previous Stirling Prize winner and the RIBA Vice-President Nations + Regions:
‘The Stirling Prize is about the building which has made the greatest contribution to architecture not about making a political statement. There has already been a well-made rebuttal of Michael Gove’s stance on architecture and it was not necessary to use the Stirling Prize to reiterate the same message. This year the Stirling Prize did not go to the best building.’

Flora Samuels, the head of the University of Sheffield’s School of Architecture:
‘There was a collective groan at the announcement of the Zaha school as winner. However it does warrant visiting in person and following the comments of the users and judges, it appears there is more to the icon than meets the eye.
‘It’s a shame that the Sarah Wigglesworth’s Sandal Magma building wan’t nominated - it is just a damn good building. Although there has been a good winner this year, the shortlist is actually rather narrow, with the North remaining significantly underrepresented. Interesting also that despite female architects, it remains notably masculine architecture which prevails. Is that really what we want the architecture of today to be? Where are the maternal counterpoints to a paternal architectural dialogue?’

It was the biggest surprise since Magna beat the Eden Project

Robert Kennett of Eric Parry Architects:
‘I was not expecting Zaha to win and the decision by the judges to select Zaha two years in a row marks a return to showy iconic designs. The choice of the project seems to go against the media representation of the prize this year, being about user and client. Having said that the building is ‘heroic’ and a masterful architectural vision. It would be interesting to see how much consultation the design team actually did with the users.’

Paul Finch, deputy chair of the Design Council:
‘It was the biggest surprise since Magna beat the Eden Project, but the jury was obviously impressed by the lifting of the spirits the school brings about, and the ingenuity of a diagram that combines four schools onto a single tight site. It was an unusual brief, had the help of a generous budget, and would be better regarded as a high quality one-off than a repeatable model.  One must accept that the jury are the only group that saw all the finalists and respect their judgement. The three finalists I have seen, Hopkins’ Velodrome, AHMM’s Angel Building and Benett’s RSC, are hugely sophisticated and I imagine will have an effect as great as the school - but in their own unique ways.’

John Tuomey of shortlisted practice O’Donnell + Tuomey:
‘Of course we were sorry to lose when each of the judges told us later that we came a very close second to the school. The great thing about the RIBA Awards scheme is that the buildings are visited at every stage in the process and not judged on a photographic image. The judges took their task seriously. And the RIBA knows how to throw a party. It was a spectacular night.’

Holly Porter, founding director of Surface to Air Architects:
‘It is great to see Zaha win and ARK are a great client. This is a message to Michael Gove that design actually matters. Good clients understand that and see top-end architecture as an educational instrument.’

Mike Taylor of shortlisted practice Hopkins:
‘We were obviously disappointed to not win the Stirling, not least because we had a lot of people rooting for the velodrome and right now we feel a bit like they have been let down. But you go into these events knowing any one of the shortlist can win - otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a prize would it? Compared to the other shortlisted schemes we at least have the Games to look forward to. You can’t ask for much more than that.

We did the correct thing putting the velodrome in for the Stirling this year

We did the correct thing to put it in this year because the velodrome is now finished, the track has been tested by the best riders in the world and was given a very positive response. The velopark is an ongoing project which will take years to develop and since we designed it to inspire future generations of cyclists you could be waiting around a long time to measure that success. We tried to make the building as elegant and efficient as a bicycle to generate a piece of architecture we could all be proud of in 2012 and that is hopefully already evident.’ 

Simon Allford of shortlisted practice AHMM:
’We are gutted not to win and others are too. But to get on the shortlist, effectively for a third year in a row, is a mark of our consistent quality.
With regard to Zaha, it is a great to see a building in a tough part of London making a difference.’

Perhaps the era of the Starchitect is not quite dead

Kevin Singh, head of Birmingham School of Architecture:
‘Even though I’d have put money on a velodrome victory I certainly got a feeling in the room that it wasn’t going to win once the films started. The [BBC Culture Show] film they showed with the kids eulogising about the school was very powerful. I’d suggest the judges decided that architecture is for people after all. I’m not sure if the building ‘has done the most for British Architecture in the last year’ but it is clearly inspirational to the kids who go there. As for Zaha, well it’s like buses, you wait ages for a Stirling Prize and then two come at once.’

Adam Clark of Halliday Clark:
‘I’m glad a school as won at last, particularly for the irony factor of the alleged comments of the Education Minister over the last year or so. It is unfortunate the school was built to much higher cost indices that we are allowed to play with on any of our Academies and particularly in the light of the new short timescale and low cost era of schools. Still, while I am not always a fan of Zaha’s work, she will always cause debate. Perhaps the era of the Starchitect is not quite dead.

It’s Chipperfield that should feel hard done by, not Hopkins

Alan Dunlop of Alan Dunlop Architects:
‘The Evelyn Grace Academy solves many of the problems of its own making. The spaces look cold and clinical and the running track absurd. Like much of Hadid’s work it’s a clever piece of product design, not architecture. Unlike the Eden project though, the velodrome was not the deserved winner. Chipperfield’s Folkwang Museum is exceptional. The AJ’s features editor Rory Olcayto is right, Chipperfield does architecture better than any of his contemporaries, which seems to be his Achilles heel. Excellence is expected in his work and as a consequence, perversely taken for granted by the judges. It’s Chipperfield that should feel aggrieved and hard done by, not Hopkins.’

Chris Brown of developer Igloo:
‘The result was quite a shock. The national judging panel didn’t expect Evelyn Grace to be the winner. The public didn’t expect it to be the winner. So it is hard to understand why it was the winner. Transparency would be nice and educational - knowing why that building was chosen over the others. As a client it would help me, because the decision makes me feel stupid.’

The Zaha school has both initial and slow burning potential

Roger Zogolovitch, director of Lake Estates:
‘If it is correct that the velodrome didn’t win because it had not been finished in the sense that it hadn’t been tested or properly used, then why was it on the shortlist? The velodrome won the public vote yet this result makes the public feel as though the architecture is elitist and the judges operating under a different rule system. We all need to know that the public is our customer.’

Mary Bowman of Gustafson Porter:
‘The Zaha project was a well-deserved win. Design should always be about the end user and while the velodrome was beautiful, Evelyn Grace is more inhabited and is a good building - whether it is iconic or not. The judges all spoke about the context of the building so even among the iconic designs, there was closer attention paid to how the building is situated, which is a really good thing. A building’s life is much longer than it’s initial impact, and it seems that the Zaha school has both initial and slow burning potential.’

Sylvia Dunkley, Lord Mayor of Sheffield:
‘The Zaha scheme makes efforts to tackle the problems of social deprivation in Brixton, much like some of the BSF schemes in Sheffield. It is of the utmost importance that grand architectural schemes integrate with their local community, which it appears the Zaha scheme does.’

Richard Hassell of Lubetkin Prize-winning practice WOHA:
‘When it comes down to it the jury has to pick the building which has particular relenvace to the issues of the day. Evelyn Grace is a wonderful school, and not just a backdrop to teaching. It is something that challenges the standard.’



Readers' comments (4)

  • Pedro Silmon

    Speaking as a relative outsider: watching the Stirling Prize on TV this evening, not having had any prior inkling of who and whose building had won, there was no doubt in my mind that Zaha Hadid's Grace Academy stood out a mile. This is a building solely about user and client. Brixton was sorely in need of something to feel proud of – that it is a showy piece of architecture is an asset in this instance. In any case, what could be more showy than a velodrome for the 2012 Olympics?

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  • Strange responses, for a structures interested Geologist I found the whole experience better this year than most years, but then as Will said some decades ago maybe the flow of water down the channels created has made the old guard either tired, or coated in something that needs renovation? Much of my Wales site and Scotland is coated in summer drought things needing renewal of the rock, so that we envisaged in 1974 is now all Biology and I know that sensation myself, so did Ezekial and Job, scraping about the place for ideas, good to see some planning and architecture in operation. As I noted to Kevin it may depend on speeches after dinner, or before dinner, the latter allows a captive audience which is that we did to students, speeches that are short (EG Bowen, or The Rector before Sunday Lunch for ladies with burning chickens), the former tends to be satiating alike John and the description of the marriage at Cana in Galilee, anyway we seem to have the best until last as I noted once to Ann trying to ram mathematics into an acceptable hydrology and I start to defer to young talent alike JLo, I am getting too old for the Conservative revival again, they did that last time and we need ambassadors in touch with people's homes and life works. Mind you the structures are much the same and the Ergonomic rules the day, so we end up back with Frank Lloyd Wright and pianos in studios, Central American or New York transposed, desert or particulate delivered, pre-built Graham 1971 or the lost causes of student revolt, we are some way behind some good designers and at least that showed in the RIBA Stirling, potential. Mike Stagg Hydrology soils Geology

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  • It is extremely disappointing to see an award, the opening address of which cited a new confidence of architects to design sustainable buildings rooted in their sense of place, and the need to demonstrate the value of architecture/ architects to inspire and deliver exceptional quality within the rigorous restraints of an increasing unstable economy, end with this result.

    Watching this year's Stirling from both sides of the fence, from the event itself and then BBC2's televised programme last night, it is incredible to witness how easy it is to mislead the viewer through biased representation. If only all nominees were as competently presented and fully explained as the Brixton Academy!

    While buildings, such as the Velodrome, are naturally showy 'iconic' pieces of architecture they represent a refined balance of design, economic and sustainability issues absent from this year's winner. At £3,000 p.m2 how can the selection of zaha's over-budget, egocentric mega structure be seem as anything other than a misguided ode to BSF's unfortunate demise?

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  • Of course Zaha Hadid is going to be the front-runner for any prize named after James Stirling. If the architectural community had wanted to reward self-effacing excellence, it would have named its award the Pevsner Prize. (Hmmm, there's an idea.)

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