The 2017 winner of the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, the Stirling Prize, will be announced on October 31. Leading up to the main event, The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has released its list of the six shortlisted buildings, a collection that has left many critics scratching their heads. What the list left out seems to be as noteworthy as what was included, and while critics’ opinions on individual buildings differ, they seem mostly united in finding the overall list uninspiring and underwhelming. Read on to find out what they had to say.
“This year’s run-down still makes for an oddly pallid affair” – Ike Ijeh, BDOnline
Ijeh is perhaps one of the least-impressed critics. While he notes that it’s less disappointing than some previous years’ lists, he still takes issue with half of the chosen buildings and laments the exclusion of others, saying of the Juergen Teller studio by 6a Architects:
Doubtless this sullen concrete bunker with its militarized street façade and cell-like interiors would look great on a magazine spread. But as an exercise in urban context and human intimacy it seems coldly vacant.
While dismissive of the “big name” projects, Ijeh is slightly more impressed by the smaller nominees included in the list, with his favorite of the group being Groupwork and Amin Taha’s Barrett’s Grove.
This enigmatic homestead touches on that star quality of exhilaration and wonder that is the core human expectation of great architecture. Sadly it is a commodity in short supply in this year’s sterile shortlist.
“The biggest truck-lift in Europe…is vying with a gloriously ungaudy pier and a Glasgow tower that thinks it’s a town.” – Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian
While Wainwright is less harsh towards the individual buildings than Ijeh, he too recognizes the unusual nature of the collection. However, he disagrees directly with Ijeh about which buildings are most worthy of the recognition:
If the prize is to recognise civic spirit, the value of education and the elegant synthesis of a fiendishly complex set of requirements, then City of Glasgow College is the standout champion. At the other end of the scale, for sheer architectural craft alone, Teller’s studio is hard to match.
Wainwright also brings up what holds as a common thread throughout the reviews: the notable exclusions from the list. He describes the left-out Tate Modern Switch House with deference and a tinge of regret:
The one surprising omission from the shortlist is Tate Modern’s new Switch House, the twisting brick ziggurat by Herzog & de Meuron that looms behind Giles Gilbert Scott’s power station like a defensive flak tower, housing a series of spiralling spaces within.
Moore’s concern about the list is that it does nothing to push the envelope of architecture and instead reacts to trends in the field while neglecting projects that truly define their time:
The collective effect is insipid. The list favours, above all else, current architects’ propensities for suggestive muteness and for subtly rearranging grids.
Meanwhile the general public, looking at the shortlist, are going to think that architecture is a dull business.
Distressed by the picture that the field of architecture is sending to the general public with these nominations, Moore is another critic baffled by the snub of the Tate Modern extension. He questions in his article whether the award is truly showcasing the best cultural accomplishments or whether it’s instead becoming too cerebral:
Occasionally you want architecture that really seizes your attention, that shapes space in such a way that it moves you, mind, body and memory. Tate does this on a large and public scale.
“The Tate-shaped hole in the shortlist is not so surprising” – Rob Wilson, The Architects' Journal
Not everyone was offended by the missing Switch House. Wilson seems to find it overrated, though he does still agree that the list is lacking overall. What Wilson seems to miss in the list is diversity, appreciating it where it does appear, and generally seeming bored by the selection. He ultimately believes that the Stirling list does not account for the issues facing today’s designers:
Housing seems a little under-represented... it would have been good to have seen one of the more socially or sustainably significant models that populated the National Awards.
Wilson’s choice for the winner reinforces his priority for architecture that engages on a deeper level with the communities it serves. Recognizing and appreciating the interdisciplinary nature of the field, Wilson finds the list lacking in those qualities.
My favourite to win though is Reiach and Hall and Michael Laird Architects’ City of Glasgow College, City Campus, and on so many counts: for what it does urbanistically, socially and architecturally, and at scale, in what is literally a small city of a building.
“The Stirling prize has a pretty strange record, not exactly of getting it wrong (though it often does that) but of answering the wrong question.” – Edwin Heathcote, Icon
Another critic concerned by what the list fails to address, Heathcote agrees that the exclusion of the Tate Modern, as well as John Pawson’s Design Museum, is an example of the Stirling Prize not accurately representing cultural accomplishments or engaging with society’s most urgent problems.
It has omissions and it utterly fails to address society’s most urgent needs and it shines a deceptively good light across the nation’s architecture.
Popular among most of the other critics, Heathcote appreciates the Glasgow City College and the Juergen Teller studio. But among the seemingly disparate projects, Heathcote finally recognizes a theme, noting the rigor, exceptional detailing, and understated style they have in common:
Zaha is gone, parametricism has somehow failed to take over the world and none of these has been built by robots. The backlash against the sci-fi blockbuster starts here.
Read the shortlist announcement and see more images of the 6 shortlisted projects here.