Wednesday23 August 2017

‘We were robbed’ – Sarah Wigglesworth on the Stirling Prize shortlist

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Stirling shortlist will ’marginalise architects’

Sarah Wigglesworth has warned that this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist risks marginalising architects rather than celebrating them.

The inclusion of high-spec buildings by the “usual suspects” is a missed opportunity to engage the public and government in a debate about the importance of good design, she said.

She also expressed disappointment that her Sandal Magna Primary School in Wakefield did not make the list.

“We were robbed,” she said. “I would say this, but I think it’s a really extraordinary building and an amazing thing to have achieved given all the things going on in the background.”

Procured through the Primary Capital Programme it was a school that could still be built under the Gove regime, she said.

“It’s not flashy or slick or special other than we have given them something that’s made an enormous difference to them.

“In terms of championing the every day, the shortlist is a failure of nerve. It’s a lost opportunity to say something to government about why design matters and how it makes a difference to ordinary lives rather than just posh people who decide to buy Shakespeare or sponsor an academy.

“The Stirling is an amazing showcase for the public and a chance to raise the debate on national TV. This just reinforces their belief that it’s all about the beauty of the object and that the architect is merely a stylist who sprinkles magic dust over engineering. It’s a sure-fire way of marginalising us.

“There are good buildings on it but as a whole the shortlist is safe, boring and predictable with a lot of names that have been on it before.

“It sends a strange message to the powers that be who don’t understand what design is about. It reinforces architecture as a rich person’s activity. That’s where I feel most let down.

“That sense of an elite group who always seem to get the gongs and is quite hard to penetrate comes through very strongly in this year’s list.

“There’s a real absence of a social programme. It’s the usual suspects of galleries and slick offices.”



Readers' comments (19)

  • Sarah Wigglesworth's point deserves a better headline than this.

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  • i agree with the person above, and also , th ebuildings by zaha, david chipperfield and ahmm look pretty dull. whey are they there? the school on the carbuncle cup list looks more interesting.

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  • Poor Poor Sarah you have missed the point Misquoting Alistair Cook
    'Architecture is an open exhibition of overweening ambition
    Courage deflated by stupidity
    Skill scoured by a whiff of arrogance'

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  • I agree 100% with Sarah's comments as being present at the judges viewing of one of the RIBA winners this year it was obvious that they were more than compromised. It only demonstrated to me that the RIBA was a true dinosaur.

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  • Scoured grapes, anyone?

    A worthy point undermined by self-interest. With all due respect, the inclusion of Sandal Magna in the list is likely to reverse the marginalisation of architecture.

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  • There is validity to some of the issues Sarah brings up however, I agree with Charles that this could be viewed as sour grapes.

    Ultimately as an Architect your duty should be to serving the needs of the client, delivering a project of quality and working within the conditions budget etc that they set out. In addition to this as an architect you wish to further a design agenda that you are motivated by to achieve the best design for you and your client.

    Awards are nothing other than a vehicle for self promotion and are really like a "little boys club" for patting friends on the back, pointless exercises in vanity, most people have forgotten who has won as soon as the winner is announced.

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  • Fed up with year after year after year of the architectural mafia establishment on the Stirling Shortlist…? Stirling Prize for me typifies what is so wrong with architecture today. Meaningless and superficial…! When Michael Gove babbles about architects 'creaming off' fees architects stood together in abhorrence of this statement. Quite right…! But I wonder what the fees were on the Evelyn Grace Academy. I wonder what the budget was… Zaha Hadid last year exclaimed..”PROFITS DOWN” on the front of the weekly architectural news: I Laughed Out Loud. Maybe the finger was pointing at practices like these who are so widely publicised due to accolades such as Stirling oiling their machines..

    Practices like Sarah Wigglesworth Architects work so hard for so little I wonder what, if any, profit they actually make when they strive for life changing architecture such as the Sandal Magna School. When Accordia won the prize it looked like things might change. How wrong you can be. What a travesty that practices and projects like this just don’t make the Stirling shortlist….

    Its SO great to see a great project like this, a school, a design that really is about the people that use it and not the egos of the architects or the banks that sponsor it. No slick details or glass sharp concrete arrisses. Is this all we must have for architecture to be great…? I’ve been to see many of Le Corbusier’s works in my time and I can tell you they aren’t slick in the least. But monumental they are… STILL, and after so many years: falling down, withered, and beaten many of them are but monumental STILL nonetheless. Will the same be said of any of this year’s Stirling Shortlist in 50 years?

    Sandal Magna School is monumental in its own way: For the way it challenges the establishment on how schools can be designed well on a tight budget; for the way that it proves architecture matters without being superficial and slick; for striving to make a difference.

    What about an ANTI-STIRLING PRIZE next year for architecture that really matters, or why don’t we just bang our heads on the wall for another year….

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  • Simon  Quinlank

    If it was really that great it would be on the list.
    I think SW Architects must have been told how great they are too often and now they are starting to believe it.

    It's a rotten list and SW Architects School isn't any better.

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  • I don't know the particulars of the Sandal Magnal school, but it's a lot more thoughtful than your average school, and if it was brought in on time and on budget, then it deserved to be recognised for disproving Michael Gove's rubbish. It's not about nominating the acropolis, or single handedly rescuing the profession, but if this isn't a missed opportunity to communicate what architects do then what the hell is?

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  • Sarah Wigglesworth was a unit tutur of mine nearly 2 decades ago and it's fair to say she's one of the most well rounded teacher/practitioners I'm aware of. Shunning flashiness isn't a crime nor is 'flashiness' in certain circumstances, it's a question of appropriateness to the situation and balance. Lewerentz's Flower Shop is as remarkable as a ZHA museum for different reasons. To simply promote the high budget and/or flashy projects does falsely skew the perception of what architects do and what architecture can be to the general public, who probably only tune-in once a year. I expect most now believe there are only half a dozen architects in the country, which could explain why so few individual clients seek out an architects service. I've been involved in education and office projects and one thing for certain is, there is no BCO equivalent 'design manual' for schools. Perhaps, if we revert to portacabin school design in the future, that will change.

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