Azara Blog: 2007 RIBA Stirling Prize won by David Chipperfield

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Date published: 2007/10/06

The BBC says:

Britain's Stirling prize for architecture has only been in place since 1996, but in just over a decade, it has established itself as the most prestigious prize in the field of architecture.

This year's winner will be announced on Saturday. But four out of the six buildings on the shortlist are not in Britain.

When the shortlist was announced, there was some debate about what this said about attitudes to architecture in Britain as compared with the rest of Europe.

Although Britain is home to some of the most admired architects in the world, there is a risk averse attitude here, which does not exist as much in the rest of Europe.

Given that Britain is a small country, it is not very surprising that many buildings by British architects are not built in Britain. This does not lead one to any conclusions about anything. And to claim that the Stirling Prize is "the most prestigious prize in the field of architecture" is an amazingly parochial British view of the world. The BBC has perhaps not heard of the Pritzker Prize.

David Chipperfield had two buildings on the shortlist, and in spite of his status has not won the Stirling Prize before, so he was the odds on favourite. And indeed, one of his buildings, the Museum of Modern Literature, in Marbach am Neckar, Germany, won. Unfortunately his other building, the America's Cup building in Valencia, Spain, was more interesting. Perhaps the middle class snobbery of the judges tilted the balance (books being good of course, and yacht races bad).

The other building on the shortlist that could have won was the Savill visitor centre at Windsor Great Park by Glenn Howell. This has a beautiful wooden roof. The main obstacle in the way of this winning the prize was that this concept is not that new, even though it is well implemented here. Indeed, back in 2002, Edward Cullinan was on the Stirling Prize shortlist for the Downland Gridshell, whose roof looked rather similar (he also did not win). Not surprisingly, the same structural engineer, Buro Happold, was involved with both buildings.

The fourth building on the shortlist was the Casa Da Musica (Porto, Portugal) by Rem Koolhaas / OMA. It is bizarre that this was even considered for the prize, but apparently Koolhaas is an honourary member of RIBA. Fortunately the judges ignored his superstar status, and it will be unfortunate if the Stirling Prize starts to be a contest which regularly considers non-British buildings by non-British architects.

The last two buildings on the shortlist were modifications of existing buildings, so did not really stand a chance. One was the renovation of the Dresden train station by Norman Foster. Foster won the Stirling Prize for the Gherkin in 2004 and for the American building at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford in 1998. He's often on the shortlist and is perhaps a bit too successful for the likes of architectural critics. It would have been a miracle if he had won. The remaining building was a renovation of the Young Vic Theatre in London by Haworth Tompkins. No matter how well it was done, it is not the kind of project which would win the Stirling Prize.

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