The Stirling Prize, a distinguished and worthy accolade, bestowed upon some of the great Architects of our time is once again pondering its’ shortlist of projects to find a recipient who is most deserved of the prize. In its’ 15 year history, the Stirling Prize has been given to those who demonstrate excellence in their field across Europe and this year we see the shortlist filled with educational buildings and projects that pay homage to our history in the Museum buildings.
Ruth Reed, RIBA President, commented: ‘Unique in the history of the RIBA Stirling Prize, three major museum buildings make up half of the list, showing us three very different ways of building – and re-building – museums and galleries. They are the fruits of the economic boom of the last decade and sadly may represent the end of an era. This is also the first year that two schools have been shortlisted for the prize. They represent what all schools should be: light, well-laid-out and well-equipped environments in which all students can flourish.’
News of the winner will have just been announced as we go to press, so our question is not of who you think will win, but what makes a winner and what characteristics these projects showed that placed them directly in line for the prize? Have we, in your opinion ever given out the Prize wrongly in the past and, what do you expect that we will see more of in years to come?
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford – Rick Mather Architects
The bar for this project could not have been set higher – to take Britain’s oldest museum and increase display space by 100% while retaining Charles Cockerell’s 1845, Grade I Listed building, resulting in 9000 square metres of new accommodation that remains largely invisible to the public realm – this building clears the bar by a mile to give a world class institution a worthy new home. Entered through the Cockerell façade into a day-lit atrium, which is modest in plan yet dramatic in section, rising through six floors with a subtly curved staircase cascading down one wall, the atrium unifies the museum. The route navigates its way through 39 new galleries with a clever interleaving of double and single height spaces creating a rich spatial journey.
Bateman’s Row, London EC2 – Theis and Khan Architects
This is a development by the architect-client for a mix of uses including their home and office, a studio and gallery and four apartments. In section the scheme skilfully adjusts the floor heights, creating taller spaces for the gallery, the studio and the principle living space. A dark brick base defines the back pavement of the narrow streets and the building becomes progressively lighter towards the top, with an almost Californian quality to the living room and terraces on the top floors giving incredible views to the city. This is a great city-making building the sort scale and mix that is both ordinary and relevant but executed with extraordinary care and judgement, the sort of building London needs a lot more of.
Christ’s College School, Guildford – DSDHA
This clever design for a secondary school is a worthy companion to the adjoining special needs school by the same architects. The school building achieves a great deal on three compact levels yet has a gratifying generosity of circulation and inner courtyard spaces. The five faculties within the school are boldly identified with bright coloured doors in a predominantly grey/black/concrete series of internal finishes, which are subtle, grown–up and calming. The building embodies an innovative natural ventilation system, which is subtly manifested on the brown brickwork of external walls as occasional patterns of gaps in the pointing. The fenestration is handsomely arranged in each façade, has deep reveals, and in places accentuates key views across Guildford.
Clapham Manor Primary School, London SW4 – dRMM
This project is a freestanding addition to a 19th Century Board School, which in the words of the designers ‘plugs into’ the existing school building, allowing the school to work as a single entity. The form of the building is a simple rectangle but because it occupies the gap between two existing buildings it creates a surprisingly successful arrangement and creates some spaces which have been made into pocket gardens.
The facade system allows good light and views at different heights for children and adults and the use of the coloured panels in what one commentator has called ‘boisterous polychromy’ provides the building with a singular identity. Overall the project provides an extremely inventive and uplifting example of what the next generation of school buildings could be.
MAXXI, National Museum of XXI Art, Rome – Zaha Hadid Architects
This museum of 21st Century art, collected since the inception of the project, is a place of paths and routes. For all its structural pyrotechnics, it is rationally organised as five main suites. The whole is bravely daylit with a sinuous roof of controllable skylights, louvres and beams, whilst at the same time conforming to the very strict climate control requirements of modern galleries; the skylights both orientate and excite the visitor, but also turn them into uplifting spaces. This is a mature piece of architecture, the distillation of years of experimentation, only a fraction of which ever got built. It is the quintessence of Zaha’s constant attempt to create a landscape, a series of cavernous spaces drawn with a free, roving line.
The Neues Museum – David Chipperfield Architects with Julian Harrap Architects
The Neues Museum was Prussia’s answer to Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851. The restored museum houses Egyptian and Pre / Early History archaeological collections and is a centre for active scientific research as well as public dissemination. This duality lay at the heart of the project organisation. A unique integration of client and science, together with a close collaboration between Chipperfield’s and conservation architects Julian Harrap, has resulted in an exceptionally coherent and holistic piece of architecture. The key architectural aim of the project was to reinstate the original volumes and to repair and restore the parts remaining after the war. The original sequence of rooms was restored by the new spaces, thereby creating continuity with the existing structure.
Graham McDarby, design director and founder of GRADONARCHITECTURE, a fledgling practice based in Ryton, near Newcastle upon Tyne, offers his thoughts on what the Stirling Prize actually means to British architecture.
“How refreshing to see two schools make it into this year’s shortlist. An indication that finally our architects and designers have been able to break through the layers of bureaucracy, which until recently, has curbed our creativity and resulted in a number of bland educational facilities designed and built under the Building Schools for the Future programme.
“It’s exciting to see institutional places of learning and important civic buildings now succeeding in design quality, whilst being indicative of the increasingly accepted importance which modern Britain places on well designed spaces. Sadly, with the economic downturn, budgets are tight and recent austere decision making means that there is less money to be spared for the regeneration and renewal of public spaces; for the moment anyway. And so, I think that in the next few years there will be fewer museums shortlisted. Perhaps this will leave room for some lower budget projects being recognised by the RIBA for their quality of design.
“Recent winners such as the likes of Rodgers, Fielden Clegg Bradley, David Chipperfield, Miralles and Hadid have been for grand projects with sizeable budgets. There is no dispute these are fine architects, but excellent design does not have to be expensive.
“Austerity and expenditure cuts are the focus of financial decision makers at present and it is paramount that the Stirling Prize reflects this era’s impact on our industry. As such it would be fantastic to see more recognition for smaller practices who are evolving out of recession and facing huge constraints, yet successfully designing quality places.
“I look forward to seeing a small budget project one day being awarded the Stirling Prize – an architect who has failed to be constrained by a tight budget and quite simply produced a quality space which both embraces the material and spiritual needs of its users as well as sympathises with both the physical and cultural context in which it sits.”
“To be awarded the Stirling Prize is both a distinguished and worthy feat, and the very fact that an architect has been awarded this accolade is, in itself, industry recognition of an architect’s prestige.”
GRADONARCHITECTURE – company profile
GRADONARCHITECTURE, set up by Graham McDarby and his wife Donna, is based in Ryton, near Newcastle upon Tyne. The firm, which recently announced expansion following an exceptional first year of trading, now employs a team of six. Across the North East of England and increasingly further afield, the practice is fast gaining a reputation for delivering an innovative and dynamic approach to architecture; a reputation which, coupled with GRADONARCHITECTURE’s realistic approach to fees, is responsible for a significant increase in contract wins and speculation of further growth later this year.
Since GRADONARCHITECTURE began trading in July 2009, the team have undertaken a wide range of projects including design and securing of planning for a number of one off contemporary residential projects, a significant hotel and leisure development in Stockton, a facility for the NE Autism Society as well as a number of projects to Code for Sustainable Homes standards throughout Gateshead. Current projects include a residential care home, student accommodation and art gallery and studios.
The practice is heavily involved in nurturing the future of the industry, working closely with the students at both Newcastle and Northumbria University. More information on GRADONARCHITECTURE is available at www.gradonarchitecture.com.