BD looks at the critics’ favourites from the Stirling Prize shortlist

Who will win the 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize? Will Chipperfield be a second time winner with the Hepworth Wakefield? Or the nation’s darling, Populous’ Olympic Stadium? Or OMA’s Rothschild bank, or the practice’s Maggie’s Centre? And then there’s the high-tech Sainsbury Laboratory by Stanton Williams.

Just days before the prize is decided the consensus among the critics is clear: the Lyric theatre in Belfast by Irish practice O’Donnell & Tuomey should win.

Hugh Pearman, architecture critic at the Sunday Times, said it was a tough choice between the Hepworth and the Lyric, but that the latter was the better fit.

“I’d like it to go to the Lyric because O’Donnell & Tuomey are in the Stirling mould literally: they used to work in Jim Stirling’s office and they are clearly influenced by his red brick period. They have been shortlisted many times but not won and Chipperfield has won.

The practice, which is shortlisted for the prize for the fourth time, lost out last year to Zaha Hadid’s Evelyn Grace Academy.

Ellis Woodman, BD executive editor and architecture critic at the Telegraph agrees that it is time one of their projects is recognised as the winner.

“O’Donnell & Tuomey are long overdue the award and the Lyric is as strong a project as they have built,” he said. “To see the award go to Northern Ireland, a part of the country that has not had a distinguished history of supporting architecture until very recently would also be very welcome.”

Meanwhile, Kieran Long, architecture critic at the Evening Standard, is the lonely backer of the Olympic stadium. In an article praising the Stratford build Long said it is a “Meccano set of lightweight white-painted steel” that should win because it emphasises the side of architecture “where the setting defers to the event in glorious fashion”.

Tom Dyckhoff, architecture critic and presenter of BBC’s Culture Show also singled out the Lyric to win - an opinion with which Oliver Wainwright, architecture and design critic at the Guardian, also agrees.

“It is a masterful concoction of levels and views, nooks and passages – cleverly crafted spaces that are a real joy to explore,” said Wainwright. “It is also beautifully made – a testament to the architects drawing every brick!”

But he conceded that it might lose out to Long’s favourite. “The likely winner, for reasons of patriotic sporting enthusiasm, is the Olympic Stadium – the leanest, lightest ever of its kind, made even better by the fact it’s built out of gas pipes, found in a field in Yorkshire,” he said.