ArchDaily Readers Debate: Stirling Prize Politics, Santiago Calatrava and More

In the past two weeks on ArchDaily there have been plenty of stories to provoke discussion: from the Stirling Prize (or more accurately the protests over the shortlisting of RSH+P's NEO Bankside) to the Solar Decathlon, and from Santiago Calatrava's European Prize for Architecture to Perkins+Will's appointment to design a new "airport city" in Istanbul.

In the second of our new series highlighting the best recent comments on our stories, our readers had discussions on politics in architecture, color in kindergartens and urban development in Turkey. Read on to find out what they had to say.

Richard Rogers' NEO Bankside and the Politics of the Stirling Prize

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners' NEO Bankside, which ultimately lost out to AHMM's Burntwood School in the Stirling Prize. Image © Edmund Sumner

The news that Architects for Social Housing would be picketing the Stirling Prize award ceremony to protest the inclusion of NEO Bankside on the shortlist was understandably a topic of a lot of discussion. There were many great comments, far too many to feature here, so I encourage readers to check out the full thread here. However, for me a highlight was this exchange between Douglas Tuck, james juricevich and David J Gill:

"Architecture prizes should be about architecture and nothing else. They should not be colored by infantile political posturing. It should not matter at all how much a building cost, what it is for, or how socially worthy it is, who sponsored it, or even whomever occupies it. A Nash terrace is a wonderful thing, as are Owen Williams Express offices, as is Terragni's Casa del Fascio, or the Acropolis, The Pantheon even - all have stood the test of time, all are good architecture, all have moved forward architectural ideas and have been a catalyst for others." - Douglas Tuck

"To deny politics in architecture is to miss the point entirely. Your examples of Casa del Fascio or Acropolis are canonical precisely for what they meant to people: people = politics. You can't have one without the other. And short of ignoring the value of architecture to people you can't remove politics from architecture." - james juricevich

"An architecture prize competition should judge what the architect does with the project not the client's brief or those factors over which the architect has little influence." - David J Gill

I think Douglas Tuck and David J Gill raise a valuable point here: regardless of your view on the issue of politics in architecture, there is an important distinction to make between the politics inherent in the process of design, and judging -even awarding - completed buildings. If we were to simply give awards to the building that had the best brief, wouldn't that somewhat diminish the role of the architect?

Away from the issue of awards, Douglas Tuck also offers a long comment on politics in architecture in general. For the sake of brevity you can ready the full comment here, but the key points are excerpted below:

"Obviously the NEO Bankside apartments are emotive. In every dream home a heartache... But as a piece of architecture they are fine. Better than most. There are some good ideas, they address the site and - presumably - fulfil client requirements, and do all this in an elegant and novel way: the architect has done his job... Now, the motive of the developer (pseudo benevolent greed) or the insipid weakness of the planning authority in expediting their obligations, well, that is another matter. I think they fall short. The planners, bless, they are so easily corrupted. So that part is simply a combination of greed and politics. Nothing to do with the architect. If Rogers had declined the scheme it would have been developed by some other architectural office. Lets face it, probably one much, much less talented... The Architect has one choice and one alone - either take the job or let it go - and if you do let it go then someone else does it. But it will get built. So try to imagine Neo done by those clowns at Vignelli and ask yourself how well did Rogers office do. I think they spared us a fate much worse." - Douglas Tuck

However, this attitude is perhaps countered elsewhere in the comment thread by "g" who says:

"I think you'll find that if Architects stop prostrating themselves in front of developers en-masse, developers will suddenly not have anybody to do the work for them. You can't just excuse an architect's association with a socially irresponsible project by saying it's all the developers fault. It's the architect that chose to accept the commission. Its the same with the profession's relatively low fees - we refuse to acknowledge our potential worth or power and instead spend our careers undercutting each other morally and financially." - g

I think this is a fascinating debate, and I'd love to hear what our other readers think. Could architects ever organize to stop "undercutting each other morally and financially"? Is it even their job t do so? Let us know in the comments below.

An Award for Santiago Calatrava?

© Flickr user: crazyegg95 licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The reaction to Santiago Calatrava receiving the European Prize for Architecture was predictably fierce. But among the melee, commenters scot sims and David J Gill managed to push an alternative viewpoint just enough to provoke an interesting debate:

"And here is the problem with the profession. We have an architecture institution rewarding an architect who, over the last few years has had a lot of issues with his buildings. These (insular/ivory tower) institutions which see themselves as the vanguard to the profession are totally out of touch. Here is an architect whose buildings have had major issues. Forget being "a visionary theorist, philosopher and utopian and a true artist in the craft of engineering and architectonic expressionism." Is your building working? What's the point of being an "artist with architectonic expressionism" in the field of architecture, if your buildings are plagued with problems?" - com_on

"I seem to remember there being many issues with roofs leaking, etc. on many FLW houses, and replacing every single window in IM Pei's Hancock Tower. Long term? Big deal." - scot sims

"I think you mean to say that we don't judge architecture and architects by the quality of the roofing contractor's work or by a window manufacturer's technical design detail." - David J Gill

"Good point about FLW buidlings, but that was decades ago, where clients were not that well informed, and the dynamic between architecture and society was different. Today imagine telling a client to rearrange the furniture to avoid the leaking, or having issues with leaking roofs. You'll get your pants sued off." - Com_on

What do our other readers think? To what extent should an architect be held responsible for the build quality of their designs - and will Santiago Calatrava ever be vindicated like Frank Lloyd Wright has been?

On The Solar Decathlon's Declining Relevance

Indigo Pine by Clemson University at the 2015 Solar Decathlon. Image © Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

In response to David Douglass-Jaimes' article, in which it was argued that the Solar Decathlon no longer has the same relevance it once held, commenter jmon offers an alternative view on why the competition might be losing relevance:

"The reason it is irrelevant is because of the designs. They all look like cookie cutter, garden variety, off the shelf modernist prefab boxes. The array of design is disappointingly uniform. How do you expect to push any limits on sustainable design when you return to the same formula each time? The only one I can remember that really pushed the boundaries was the SCIArc/CalTech house from a year or two ago. They took chances in so many places and should have been rewarded for it. They pushed the boundaries and that is what the competition should be about. Not similarity." - jmon

I think it's interesting that there is still an appetite for truly groundbreaking sustainable design at an event like the Solar Decathlon. However, I think it may be worth bearing in mind that the competition is, after all, a "decathlon": designs are judged on factors such as affordability and market appeal, as well as in their sustainable credentials. So while SCI-Arc and Caltech's "DALE" from 2013 was awarded 100/100 on Energy Balance, it lost out on some of these other criteria. Does this reveal a problem with the Solar Decathlon's judging criteria?

Perkins+Will's Istanbul "Airport City" and Turkey's Urban Policy

When it was announced that Perkins+Will would be designing a new "Airport City" alongside Istanbul's new Grimshaw-designed airport, commenter mutlu gungor had reservations about the development:

"Mr. Green said 'a truly unique center of economic, cultural, and social life' but has he ever thought about the nature or natural wildlife in that area? Does he ever think how the airport city will affect the ecosystem in Istanbul? Or just doesn't care? Info: The area that is called Northern Forest is the heart of Istanbul. The Aerotropolis Project will be plundering the lungs of Istanbul." - mutlu gungor

When asked to offer a more suitable location for such a development though, sillybug offered a third option:

"The very first strategic step regarding this has nothing to do with architects, but the strategies of Turkish state. Heaping almost 1/4 of the population of the entire country in one city is utter madness. When/If they fix the educational and employment problems of the country so that people can stay closer to home, I'll show you tons of suitable spaces throughout Anatolia for an 'airport city.'" - sillybug

Architecture for Kids: Must it All Be So Colorful?

Mario Cucinella Architects' kindergarten with its natural hues raised some questions about the use of color in architecture for children. Image © Moreno Maggi

Finally, Mario Cucinella Architects' almost colorless Kindergarten in Guastalla provoked an interesting discussion about the role of color in architecture:

"I appreciate the architecture and the thoughtfulness in form, but... 'know your audience?' Where's the color? It's out-there from an architectural design standpoint, but I don't see this being whimsical and fun for a kindergartner. Ironically, bright paint is pennies compared to what these amorphous plywood forms probably cost. Of course, I'm not a toddler, so maybe I'm off base. Maybe they're fascinated." - Joshua Young

"If I see one more primary color-engulfed childcare facility I think I might burn it to the ground. Vacant of course. I love this approach, natural materials, sinuous forms, tons of light - I see some colored items in there. I'm sure they've got enough garishly hued building blocks and concentric plastic rings to sate the rugrats' curiosity." - Chris

"If you were the end-user, I would say "Bravo, well done." Unfortunately for the kindergartners, that's not the case." - Joshua Young

It's an interesting debate. Is colorful architecture for kids a worn out cliché, or a psychological necessity? Are there any experts out there who can shed a little light on the issue?

Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "ArchDaily Readers Debate: Stirling Prize Politics, Santiago Calatrava and More" 18 Oct 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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