Stirling has already swayed from its origins, so why not include masterplans?

An interesting debate has broken out on whether or not a masterplan should be eligible for Stirling when the prize was set up to award a building. Of course, since then it has been given to a bridge, as well as some sexy lighting and interactive exhibits, so why not? The jury who voted for Liverpool One to join this year’s list of contenders claims it is a significant model for retail led regeneration in a way that Westfield in west London is not, and has given the city a cool new centre to be proud of.

There’s no doubt that the result is far more successful than the clumping banality of Birmingham’s Bullring, or indeed the architecturally challenged Westfield. And Grosvenor, which commissioned more than 20 architects to work on individual buildings, should certainly be in the running for client of the year.

Masterplanning is fiendishly difficult to do well and yet those who do rarely get the profile they deserve. It is also one of the few sectors holding up well in a recession, partly because clients are keen to prepare sites for development even if they cannot afford to build. The sight of tens of thousands of empty flats — where no masterplan exists — has made it clear that the physical, social and economic revival of our towns and cities needs more and deeper thinking if it’s to survive the next boom and bust.

Other comments about this year’s shortlist are that it looks a bit thin. There is no obvious winner and even the favourites do not have the star quality of previous shortlists. But as the recession slows down all building, future years may be even leaner and masterplans might have to plug that gap.

Moving the prize even further away from the solid virtues of architecture is never going to be popular with those architects who have dominated the list, and it’s something that needs to be debated, particularly if the prize is to retain its high profile which relies on having eye-catching buildings to film.

But while this time round the inclusion of Liverpool One looks odd, architectural interests are changing, as are the ways ideas are communicated. In future years it may be buildings that look odd on the Stirling shortlist, not masterplans.

While this time round Liverpool One looks odd, in future years it may be buildings that look odd on the Stirling shortlist

Tough measures in tough times

Housebuilders, who reaped enormous profits when times were good, are to be bailed out of their current difficulty with large injections of public cash. The money is from the Homes & Communities Agency which has twin objectives — to boost the economy and help the government get nearer its target for new homes this year.

But many of the housebuilders who have bid for funding have had their knuckles rapped by Cabe for monotonous design as well as failing to provide decent outdoor space.

The schemes put forward are “shovel ready” which means they have planning and are ready to go. Any delay will lead housebuilders to claim more jobs will be at risk. But for once red tape is a good thing if it means housing that will not deliver long-term value is rejected.

Based on the track record of those applying for money, quite a few will fail to reach a high enough standard. This will prompt further squealing, but for those who care about raising quality, the HCA’s tough stance on design is an important step forward.

BD is on summer break. The next issue will be August 14.