Five of six architects are first-time nominees, as two housing schemes make the cut

Stirling prize shortlist

The shortlist for the Stirling Prize was unveiled this week, with five of the six architects on the list for the first time, and half the practices shortlisted headed by women.

The 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist, unveiled today, comprises:

  • the revamp of the sixties Sheffield housing block Park Hill by Hawkins\Brown with Studio Egret West
  • Alison Brooks Architects’ Essex housing development Newhall Be
  • Witherford Watson Mann Architects’ holiday home within the burnt-out shell of the 12th century Astley Castle
  • the Bishop Edward King Chapel by Niall McLaughlin Architects
  • the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre by Heneghan Peng architects
  • the University of Limerick Medical School by Grafton Architects

Of the nominees, only Alison Brooks Architects, which was joint-winner in 2008, has previously made the shortlist.

For the first time in the prize’s 18-year history half the shortlisted practices - Grafton, Heneghan Peng and Alison Brooks - are led by women.

The shortlist includes two housing projects - Newhall Be and Park Hill - and two very different reinventions of historic buildings - Park Hill and Astley Castle - which are both Grade II* listed. The Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre also worked within the constraints of a UNESCO site and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The judges said the Bishop Edward King Chapel demonstrated some of the best examples of craftsmanship seen for some time, while attention to detail transformed Limerick Medical School’s simple teaching and study areas into “rich, theatrical spaces”, with a modest budget of £1,062 per m2.

Angela Brady, RIBA president, said: “The RIBA Stirling Prize is awarded to the building that has made the biggest contribution to the evolution of architecture, and nowhere is the need for fresh-thinking needed more than in housing.

“The UK is blighted with unimaginative, poor quality houses that people don’t want to live in but have little other choice, so I am delighted to see two amazing and highly original housing projects on this year’s shortlist.”

The winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize will be announced on 26 September.


Parsimony of our times restrains scale but not the quality of the shortlist

Two housing schemes, a visitor centre, a chapel and a school. No, this isn’t a local authority shopping list but it is in fact the 2013 Stirling Prize shortlist.

With UK construction’s Olympic life-support machine switched off and the economic recovery still at a canter rather than a gallop, gone are the glossy mega-projects of yesteryear and in their place we have a quiet emphasis on modesty and domesticity.

One foreign entry this year (Grafton Architects’ University of Limerick) comes at the expense of London, which is presumably punished for refusing to comply with the austerity script and pumping Qatari millions into its property market. The capital is denied an entry for the first time in Stirling Prize history.

Unlike housing, which dominates the list. The sheer scale of Park Hill’s protracted exorcism is recognised by Hawkins Brown’s solid ongoing work there. Alison Brooks’ innovative reinvention of rural vernacular is also acknowledged by the inclusion of her Newhall Be development, although a blind eye is presumably turned to its blank parking courts and pseudo back-to-back housing layout. Witherford Watson Mann’s Astley Castle is the oddest entry, a weird and wonderful restoration of a ruined medieval castle into a holiday home.

Henegham Peng’s Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre is probably the closest scheme to the bombast of yesteryear, a powerful, muscular screen of stone mullions rammed into the landscape to mimic the composition of its geological namesake. Either this, or Niall McLaughlin’s Bishop Edward King Chapel should win, the latter being a small but stunning evocation of the spiritual, spatial and material aspect of a medieval church. Grafton Architects’ University of Limerick completes the shortlist with a sculpted if rather severe rendition of punched brick box.

Worthy rather than inspirational, the parsimony of this year’s list reflects the times in which we now live. It also proves to anyone that still needs convincing that budgets determine scale but not quality. Nonetheless, the resounding message of this year’s shortlist is still a fiscal one; the party is definitely over.

Ike Ijeh is Building’s architectural correspondent