This year’s Stirling Prize Dinner was, in many ways, a very British affair. The event was held at a historic London building - Camden’s Roundhouse, traffic getting there was a nightmare and it poured, torrentially and constantly, with rain.
But while the mood and weather may have been English through and through, we all now know that the winning design wasn’t for a British building. The Stirling Prize’s perennial bridesmaid finally had her day as it was fourth time lucky for British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid who won the prize for Maxxi, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome.
The result came as little surprise to plenty of guests - almost everyone I spoke to ahead of the ceremony predicted Hadid had it in the bag. But opinions on whether the right woman won were divided. There were those who thought it was about time: “She is like the Meryl Streep of the architecture world,” said one of my table mates. “Always nominated, always worthy and never a winner.” And others were not so sure: “I would have preferred a British building to win,” commented one well known developer and another commentator was more public, and direct in airing his thoughts on Twitter: “Stirling Prize Results: Girlfriend = first place. Politics = second place. Architecture = third place.”
Whether or not that’s a commonly held opinion, one thing that did raise plenty of questions and spark debate on Saturday night, was whether Hadid had the benefit of an easy year as it was always going to be unlikely a school building would scoop the prize. “A school compared to a museum is an easy competition,” said a fellow female architect. “Museum buildings are naturally so much more impressive and exciting.” This may be true, but Hadid did fight off competition from Oxford’s revamped Ashmolean Museum, the building that won the public vote last week in a poll conducted by members of the RIBA and the general public.
So, Hadid’s win split opinion. Certainly far more so than her choice of outfit which most guests agreed was unusual to say the least. She was swaddled in an inordinate amount of shiny, bright yellow gold material which, while eye catching, looked much like she had left the house wrapped in a garish duvet. But outfit aside, her acceptance speech hit all the right notes. Gracious, grateful and endearingly unrehearsed: “Sorry to all you schools boys and girls,” she said. “Your time will come,” before adding “I have waited a really long time for this. Thank you.”
Well done too to Hammerson who scooped the client of the year award. The firm’s director of project management Vinod Thakra joined the Adams Kara Table for some celebratory drinks and attempted to inform his 17-year-old son of the news via text through his wine haze. “He has just texted me see,” he explained, showing me a message that simply read. “Am going out. Did you win?” “We did. Dad” was the equally perfunctory reply. Like father like son it seems.
Also spotted were judge Ivan Harbour in an extremely brightly coloured shirt, Gleeds’ Richard Steer peering out of the front door at around 11pm waiting for a break in the rain to make a break for a cab and Jack Pringle seen making a hasty (and very sensible) retreat from the Roundhouse before the decision to continue the party in Camden Town proper was made.
With Turkish guests over from Istanbul among us, we felt it would be a wasted trip north of the river if we didn’t go for a proper London night out – before ending up in a Caribbean-themed rum shack and then going on to a Salsa Bar. OK, so not exactly British but it was fully worth it to see some of the great and good of the structural engineering world shaking their hips as best they could on a dance floor almost entirely filled with couples who were clearly professional Salsa dancers. You all really stood out.
Huge thanks to Hanif Kara and Adams Kara Taylor for hosting such an excellent (and somewhat rowdy) table. A good night was had by all – proof that, even in tough times, it takes more than a touch of torrential rain to dampen the industry’s party spirit.