The RIBA Stirling Prize was born in 1996 out of its predecessor The Building of the Year Award. Every year the prize is presented to the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year. The prize is for the best building in the UK by RIBA chartered architects and International Fellows, or in the rest of the EU by an RIBA chartered architect.
The Stirling prize was largely instrumental in turning the tide of negative public opinion against modern architecture that had existed during the 1980s and 1990s. By the late 1990s ‘Cool Britannia’ had replaced conservatism (both with a big and small ‘c’) and an improving British economy had made design cool again.
Here are the six shortlisted buildings. The winner will be chosen in October.
Library of Birmingham
Playing an important role in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the new Library of Birmingham is an impressive and bold addition to the city.Architect: Mecanoo architecten Client: BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL Awards won: riba stirling shortlist, riba national award and riba west midlands award
It takes good architects to give form to the political will and the City of Birmingham has appointed successive excellent firms to do so, first Rogers whose fine design was never realised, and latterly Mecanoo whose first major UK project this represents. Playing an important role in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the new Library of Birmingham is an impressive and bold addition to the city, a truly public and civic building. It has set a precedent for the scale of the buildings on the square, which helps to animate the place and stipulate a sense of enclosure. For the city, this is a significant public sector investment, which has not only provided a new integrated public library but also helped to regenerate the city’s cultural heart and helped link the Westside to the city core.
Its intriguing section connects the building’s internal atrium to the square outside, creating a number of levels where users can enjoy the spaces. The journey through the building reveals itself through an interlocking atrium, tying together a range of volumes and providing glimpses of natural light.
From the ‘Harry Potter’ rotunda to the ‘Willy Wonka’ glass lift, not to mention the more pedestrian escalators, the library is a journey up through the five floors of the book rotunda which houses the reference library – akin to the British Museum Reading Room – to the archives placed counter-intuitively but successfully on the upper floors. This is a journey of discovery and fun for all ages and backgrounds. The library has bought millions of people into the city and demonstrated how powerful architecture can play a role in the lives of communities.
London Aquatics Centre
This is a world-class building and its distinctive curvaceous form was a fitting backdrop for the 2012 Olympic Games. Architect: zaha hadid architects Client: loCOG/ODA Awards won: RIBA Stirling shortlist, riba nATIONAL award and RIBA LONDON award
Flexible buildings are generally dull; compromise means that none of the functions are properly served. At the Olympic Park ZHA designed for legacy a world-class building with a distinctive curvaceous form. Then they designed the removable ‘wings’ that accommodated the additional seating required by spectators during the Olympics. It is subsequent clipping of the wings that has allowed the building, architecturally speaking, to fly free.
The concept was inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of the Olympic Park. An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground like a wave folding over the building, defining the separate practice and performance-cum-diving pool halls. The main hall, with its acoustically treated timber ceiling, allows for normal conversation across the screeches of delighted swimmers.
Despite the unusually stringent demand for the building to work as both an Olympic venue and, in its purer form, a public swimming pool, the resulting Centre has proved successful in both scenarios. There were exceptionally complex site constraints: it was tightly bounded by a main railway line to the east, the Waterworks River to the west and underground power lines running the length of the site. The main pedestrian access route had to be via Stratford City Bridge, a new pedestrian route. The solution was to have a podium encasing the main pool hall, on axis, perpendicular to the bridge, off which is the entrance, with the training pools slotted under the bridge within the podium.
The building has three main components: a cast in-situ concrete podium; a wide spanning steel roof, encased in timber louvres on its underbelly and aluminium cladding, with standing seams on top. Glazed facades infill between the two, with bronze coloured aluminium frames.
Everyman Theatre (See Top Photo)
The original theatre, on one of the city’s most important streets, was one of the most cherished of Liverpool’s cultural assets. In selecting Haworth Tompkins the client found a partner that has understood the essence of the organisation and its ambitions. Architect: haworth tompkins Client: liverpool and merseyside theatres trust AWARDS WON: RIBA STIRLING SHORTLIST, RIBA NATIONAL AWARD, RIBA NORTH WEST AWARD
Overall this is a very beautiful building; it is sensual in its form with a generosity of space. It works very practically and is well built with very high quality finishes. This is a great building of our times, its pure and powerful form is conceptually flawless; and undoubtedly it will be a favourite venue for Londoners for generations to come.
The old theatre, converted from a 19th Century chapel on one of the city’s most important streets, was one of the most cherished of Liverpool’s cultural assets. It was though totally unsuited for productions and audiences in the 21st century. Consequently, the challenge to build a new purpose-built theatre on the site of the original was a brave but key move by the client team.
In selecting Haworth Tompkins they found a partner who understood the essence of the organisation and its ambitions. Consequently over the past nine years they have worked closely together to deliver a building of outstanding quality that retains the unique values of the Everyman. The new building includes a technically advanced and highly adaptable 400 seat theatre which exactly mirrors the shape of the original, smaller performance spaces, rehearsal room, a sumptuous green room, public foyer, café and bar along with supporting office and ancillary spaces. Back and front of house are turned out using the same materials and with the same attention to detail. Haworth Tompkins have created a building that instinctively you want to reach out and touch; its handrails, walls and exquisite purpose-built joinery are all equally tactile. The concrete is good but never precious. However none of the elements shouts out, together they simply add to the whole, amplifying this exceptional piece of architecture.
London School of Economics Saw Swee Hock Student Centre
This remarkable project is an object lesson in mobilising the limitations of a site into a surprising and original building. The architects started by taking the geometry of tight angles as the definition of a solid into which they gouged cuts and cracks that give light and form. Architect: O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects Client: London School of Economics and Political Science – Estates Division Awards won: riba stirling shortlist, RIBA NATIONAL AND RIBa london AWARD
In the midst of a complex mediaeval London street pattern O’Donnell and Tuomey have woven a little of their magic. This remarkable project is an object lesson in mobilising the limitations of a site into a startlingly original building which makes a massive contribution to its townscape.
The architects started by taking the geometry of tight angles as the definition of a solid into which they gouged cuts and cracks that give light and form. Every angled facet responds to rights of lights of its neighbours. The momentum is generated in the surrounding streets and drawn into the spiral that rises through the whole height of the structure as a continuous internal street, taking the form of a generous stair that clambers its way around the core. Outer walls slope and twist, floors take up complex non-orthogonal shapes, yet all the accommodation generated seems to be natural, functional and hugely enjoyable to use. The result is truly unexpected. It is fascinating to see a practice enlarging its areas of expertise in this way.
The bold red brick tower is made of not just any brick – there are 46 standard shape bricks, 127 special bricks out of a total of 175,000, and not a single cut brick. This is achieved with walls that slope and become perforate to give shading and have angles that vary in every direction all suggesting a very considerable imaginative control. The latticing lets in more light, lending it a Kahnian air. The windows use jatoba, a self-finished hardwood from Brazil and have a complexity of their own whereby many verticals are gathered together next to larger panes, the verticals indicating opening lights.
London Bridge Tower/The Shard
There cannot be a more compressed model for city intensification than this tower: 1.2 million square feet of accommodation built on a small piece of land directly next to one of London’s major transport hubs. Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop Client: London Bridge Quarter Awards won: RIBA STIRLING SHORTLIST, RIBA NATIONAL AWARD AND RIBA london award
The Shard is omnipresent in London. If the architects had illustrated every view in which it stars, as part of the planning process, the resulting material would have filled several fat volumes.
To make a tower on such a tight site a thing of great beauty is a rare achievement. The architects have added immeasurably to its immediate environs and to London as a whole. Like the Gherkin, this is a tower that people who don’t generally care for modern architecture seem to like. It makes people talk about architecture, which can only be a good thing. But there is much for architects to admire too: the way it meets the split ground level expressing its structure all the way; the way you keep seeing the structure from the inside of the building and the way the structure shines when it frames the views from the uppermost public platforms.
There cannot be a more compressed, nor exemplary, model for city intensification than this tower: 1.2 million square feet of accommodation built on a tiny parcel of land directly next to one of London’s major transport hubs. It has six uses each occupying multiple floors: health clinic, offices, restaurants, hotel, residential apartments and public viewing gallery: a genuine vertical village. All this touches the ground effortlessly with offices and viewing gallery, the high-volume uses, approached directly from a podium facing London Bridge Station, and the rest from street level on the opposite side.
Manchester School of Art:
Architect: FEILDEN CLEGG BRADLEY STUDIOS Client: MANCHESTER METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY awards won: riba stirling shortlist, riba national award and riba north west award
It feels as if you are entering a atrium with real purpose: providing public (who are allowed in thus far) and other students with glimpses of works of art and their making. Different disciplines can see what their confreres are up to and are encouraged to mix and collaborate: graphic arts with fine arts, architecture with fashion, photography with jewellery.
This major refurbishment of the 1960s tower and new extension to the Manchester School of Art has been executed with great skill by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. Design excellence has been coupled with the brief of a visionary client to break down the traditional art and design units, encouraging staff and students across disciplines to work together and explore the common ground between subjects.
Jarvis Cocker, one of the myriad of art school trained musicians including Malcolm McLaren, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Ian Drury and Joe Strummer, and himself a graduate of the Central St Martin’s School, has said, ‘The experience of being at art school gave me a lot to draw on – Pulp’s Common People – is about (meeting and falling in love) there, but on a deeper level I was taught to think about things in a non-lateral way.’ Just so FCBS have thought about this building in a non-linear, in a vertical way. It will influence the design of all art schools and many other university buildings for years to come.
The welcoming ‘vertical gallery’ space is open to all, enabling students and visitors to perambulate up gently rising flying staircases. Behind the vertical element sits the ‘design shed’ where open studios, workshops and teaching spaces provide a wide range of spaces for learning. The discreet security systems allow students to access studios without the need for endless turnstile systems that often plague such buildings. Large custom-made hangar doors enable the ‘shed’ to open up to the public vertical space for exhibitions or other events.
They are one of a number of innovative design solutions that have been cleverly incorporated throughout the scheme. Client and Vice Chancellor Professor John Brooks has written, ‘Arts and culture have a vital role in the education of our young people and in the values of society. At a time when financial pressures can dominate decision making, it is vital that we have been able to take a long-term view about the critical importance of the Arts to our well-being and the stability of our society.’ This refreshing refusal either to bend down before the totem art for art’s sake or to accept that the decent provision for the arts is a luxury we can no longer afford has led to a great building.