Ellis Woodman - editor
I can’t say that I shared the widespread incredulity at the choice of Evelyn Grace Academy as winner of this year’s Stirling. The prize has surely long since lost its credibility as a reward for architectural merit.
Buildings that embody telegenic iconic qualities repeatedly win out against more considered but less immediately communicated projects, last year’s decision to award the prize to Maxxi over the Neues being a particularly cringeworthy example. Projects that embody a heart-lifting social programme – see RSHP’s Maggie’s Centre and Alsop & Stormer’s Peckham Library – also tend to do well. As an iconic and socially progressive intervention in a deprived corner of south London, Evelyn Grace ticks both boxes.
I haven’t seen the building, but by all accounts it is a considerably better school than Maxxi is an art gallery. The jury supposedly had their doubts before they visited but had a Damascene conversion when they got there. The front-runners, Hopkins Architects, are reported to have blown their chances by subjecting the jury to “death by Powerpoint”. If true, one has to question the attention span of the jury rather than the merits of the Velodrome.
I had dinner last week with a publisher friend who was bemoaning the make-up of this year’s Man Booker Prize jury. She felt it was dominated by people who didn’t read enough literary fiction and had consequently come up with a shortlist with which she fiercely disagreed.
Similarly, one wonders whether the Stirling Prize’s use of lay-jurors really contributes anything to the process. In my experience of being on juries, the architects invariably end up steering the decision with the lay-representatives meekly falling into line. It is only the architects who have the frame of reference that allows them to really assess – or perhaps more importantly argue for - a project’s merits. Is Evelyn Grace a good school? Perhaps.But one would want to measure Hadid’s achievement against that of other school architects. One wonders how many people on the jury were equipped to do that.
However, the anger that Saturday night’s decision has unleashed is ultimately down to the opacity of the criteria against which buildings are being judged. Past experience would suggest that an exemplary office building such as AHMM’s Angel building would never stand the remotest chance of winning the Stirling, but year-on-year we persist with the pretence that the shortlisted schemes are being assessed on a level playing field. David Chipperfield complained last year about the jury’s failure to produce a citation setting out its reasons for choosing Maxxi as a winner. On Saturday, once again, we were left guessing as to why the jury thought Hadid had produced the best building of the year when the majority of people at the ceremony clearly held a very different opinion.
3 October 2011
1 October 2011