At first this might appear professionally self-indulgent, but we should recognise the incredible success that the Stirling prize and other RIBA awards have had
Last week I attended the annual highlight of the architects social calendar, the Stirling prize Party. The event has evolved in recent years into a miniature version of the BAFTA Awards ceremony, complete with a rundown of each shortlist, and the added drama of film clips and interviews for the final two categories. While surprise often follows the usual adrenaline charged opening of the envelope, the audience was certainly caught off guard when the Stirling was announced this year, and the winners seemed to be in a state of shock.
At first glance this might all appear a little professionally self-indulgent, but we should recognise the incredible success that the Stirling prize and other RIBA awards have had in elevating architecture and the importance of design with a wider public. The RIBA should be given credit for achieving something that is the envy of their counterparts elsewhere in the world; an award process followed by the mass media and by bookmakers, with the changing odds helping to charge speculation. All of the shortlisted schemes gained a great deal of press coverage and of course the winner is assured national media attention. This simply doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.
This might be the start of a shift away from the dominance of glossy stand alone icons, and encourage architects to engage more with housing
This coverage also gives greater exposure to the key role that clients have and their important relationship with the architectural profession. This year’s awards recognised in the client category a national institution in its own right, The National Trust. While the Trust is better known to the public as preserving the country’s national treasures, this award will shed some light on their patronage of contemporary architecture as well. Clients like the Trust play a key role in the public sector, meeting both challenging budgets and intense social demands in co-operation with architects to ultimately realise visionary designs for projects that enrich the lives of many.
For the first time this year housing, and in particular social housing, was a prominent feature on all of the shortlists. I will declare my own self-interest here, as our sustainable, social housing project in New York’s Bronx was on the shortlist for the RIBA Lubetkin Prize. The Stirling shortlist included Alison Brooks Architects ’ Newhall Be estate and the redevelopment of the Park Hill mass housing by Hawkins Brown and Studio Egret.
Hopefully this might be the start of a shift away from the dominance of glossy stand alone icons, and will encourage architects not just to engage more with housing, but all forms of social infrastructure that will form key components for developing sustainable cities in the future. While none of these schemes may have won, the prominence gained by their shortlisting sends out a strong endorsement. We will have to see if this is the start of a change once the next round of shortlists are revealed in 2014.
Andrew Whalley is deputy chairman at Grimshaw