Does the Stirling Prize need to be more transparent?
No, says Ruth Reed, confidentiality is vital to the panel’s debate; but George Ferguson is keen to see a wider audience involved
The route to the RIBA Stirling Prize is the most rigorous process of any design award. The visit by the Stirling jury is the third time a building is vetted after its nomination, so the selection process results in a refined list of exceptional buildings.
All six meet the judging criteria that include design vision, capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors, accessibility and sustainability, how fit the building is for its purpose, and the level of client satisfaction. Any one of the six could be the building that has done the most for the evolution of British architecture and the built environment in that year. The jury’s challenge is great indeed.
To select one from this parade of excellence requires full and frank discussion, no jury member wants to feel that their opinion will be picked over by the twitterati for tweets to come. Confidentiality and confidence go hand in hand at the Stirling judging luncheon.
Some years there will be greater convergence of opinion, in others the architecture is so diverse and the opinions so divided that the discussion may well be polarized and difficult to resolve.
We would all love to have been flies on the wall when Magna won for example. We can only know what happened if we were there, and the mythology of the jury room is one of the great architectural speculations of the last 16 years. More transparency would lead to defensive judging unworthy of the rigour of the award. We need to trust our juries to reach the right decision on the day.
There was a strong feeling of deja vu at the Stirling Awards on Saturday — not only because Zaha won again, but also because we were in Magna, the great steelworks exhibition that bizarrely beat Grimshaw’s Eden to the Stirling in 2001.
This year’s decision was not as blatantly strange as that of 10 years ago but nevertheless flew in the face of wider opinion in a way that has seemingly become the stuff of Stirling juries. My contention is that an opaque shortlisting and final selection process needs to be opened up to healthy debate.
I chaired the judging in 2003 when the delightful Laban Dance Centre beat the people’s choice of the Great Court of the British Museum. I voted for the latter, and readily admit to having been partially influenced by public opinion. Should we not be? Of course we have the benefit of a visit and therefore a greater understanding than those who judge by a few still photos.
Nevertheless, I was left feeling that this is a very closed and relatively arbitrary process that could and should be opened up to others to contribute. We have the tools via the internet. We are able to employ film to give virtual visits, and we have a profession and public itching to play a part.
This is far too important to be left to another star jury of five to reward yet another big gestural scheme. Let’s open the debate now to implement new rules for 2012.
What do you think?