This Stirling shortlist favours the safe and generic
The usual suspects are once again honoured at the expense of truly stirring architecture.
This year’s Stirling Prize shortlist will be greeted with a great collective yawn - followed by a startled cry.
The yawn is prompted by seeing the same old names trotted out once again - David Chipperfield, Zaha Hadid, AHMM - the ensuing shock from the realisation that the buildings representing them here are clearly not their finest.
Hadid has made a worthy inclusion in the past, but the Evelyn Grace Academy, Brixton, is possibly her clunkiest work to date, a monumental shed with appliquéd parametric styling and the aggressive swagger of a power yacht. Is this really the time to be celebrating a hedge-fund-sponsored fortress, as the government is systematically dismantling any hope for the future of educational buildings? Surely Sarah Wigglesworth’s Sandal Magna School in Wakefield would have made a more worthy contender.
Bennetts Associates’ Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford boasts an excellent auditorium by all accounts, but from the outside it looks like an out-of-town multiplex crossed with a prisoner of war camp. Must buildings that work well also be so ugly?
AHMM’s Angel building in London and Chipperfield’s Folkwang may be objectively hard to fault - the Angel is topical, demonstrating an accomplished reinvention of an existing building, while the Essen museum is Chippo on fine autopilot - but neither truly stir the soul.
It seems the Stirling Prize has become about paying lip service to the safe and generic, rather than celebrating the truly innovative or joyful. Where is the fun of MVRDV’s Balancing Barn, or the drama of Foster & Partners’ Faustino winery, or the experimental ingenuity of David Lea and Pat Borer’s Wise building?
The only real contenders for me are O’Donnell & Tuomey’s An Gaeláras and Hopkins’ Olympic Velodrome - one a beautifully crafted series of social spaces, the other a perfectly distilled marriage of architect and engineer.
My money is on the Velodrome - for political as well as architectural reasons - leaving the understated Dubliners to pick up the gong next year for their outstanding Lyric theatre.