The furore over the broadly unexpected result of the Stirling Prize reveals something that is as true today as it was when Nero (allegedly) burned down Rome: architecture and politics do not mix. First, let me nail my colours to the mast, I like many others wanted and expected the Velodrome to win. That said, Evelyn Grace was my second choice and I am convinced it is an exceptional piece of architecture.
Clearly others, amongst them ex-RIBA president George Ferguson no less, disagree. Even worse, in an era when educational spending is being cut, (or depending on which side of the political grapevine you tune in to, rationalised) many have labelled the decision to award the prize to an expensively built school as politically illiterate. Should architecture therefore reflect economic realities or should it primarily be about creating exhilarating buildings?
Ideally of course both. But as contemporary architecture is so obsessed with the cult of what is supposedly ‘iconic’, then it must then also accept that there may well occasionally be exceptions to the rule. Both the Empire State Building and the Palace of Versailles were built against a backdrop of crushing economic woes. Like Evelyn Grace, neither was a template for mass production but an object to inspire. There is certainly an argument for both to go hand in hand more often. But an awards ceremony, particularly one as introverted as the Stirling, is not the place to have it.