In the great tradition of the RIBA Stirling Prize, the announcement of Haworth Tompkins' Everyman Theatre as the winner of the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize took many by surprise. The Everyman surpassed the public's favourite, Mecanoo's Library of Birmingham, and the bookies' (and many critics') favourite, O'Donnell + Tuomey's LSE Saw Swee Hock Student Centre - as well as two household names in Zaha Hadid's Aquatics Centre and Renzo Piano's Shard.
In what was seen by many as the strongest shortlist in years, the underdog Everyman has emerged victorious. But was it a worthy winner? Read on after the break to find out what the critics made of this unexpected result.
"The results have been outstanding"
Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times
One consistent theme among the critics' comments is a sense of praise for not awarding the prize to one of the showier buildings on the shortlist. "If there were awards for changing the cityscape, the Shard and Birmingham’s Central Library would have won, but fortunately, the Stirling prizes architectural quality," says Heathcote.
Clearly he believes that quality is more than visible in the eventual winner, commenting on the significant challenge that Haworth Tompkins faced in replacing a much-loved building in the centre of Liverpool: "The question was whether architects Haworth Tompkins could reproduce that spirit of cosy, louche and radical artiness. Their victory in the RIBA Stirling Prize is the answer."
"Sheer skill and conviction"
Ike Ijeh, Building Design
Like Heathcote, Ijeh praises how the architects have responded to both the cultural and urban context in which they were designing: "Much of Haworth Tompkins’ most celebrated works have carefully inserted new into old," he says, which create "an organic architectural response that fits as effortlessly as a velvet glove. The trick with the Everyman and the key to its and its architect’s success was their ability to upgrade this principle from an architectural scale to an urban one."
It is, he believes, "a building that is a selfless homage to the soul and spirit of Liverpool," and which "skilfully harnesses architecture to flatter and flirt with its metropolitan suitor."
However, despite his praise for the building, he seems reluctant to single it out as the most worthy winner on the list. Like many before him, Ijeh points out the strength of the shortlist on the whole, highlighting how each has a sense of civic responsibility that has been lacking in many recent award winners. "The Everyman Theatre may have triumphed on the night," he says. "But the real winners were the long established concepts of city and public building that were lovingly rekindled in each nominee."
"This is a project that Adolf Loos would have praised"
Brian Hatton, Architectural Review
Hatton is another critic who sees the award as a step towards a holistic appreciation of architecture, calling it "a recognition that architectural quality is far more than just slick commissioning of a vanity image."
He concludes: "Not only does this prize vindicate the hopes vested in Liverpool’s 2008 year as ‘City of Culture’, it gives hope that the organizers of the Stirling Prize will set their sights deeper and further than surfaces and ‘icons’, orienting it comprehensively on the culture of cities."