Stirling effort

Moving on – and returning to the eternal debate about: What makes a Good Building? In the UK, every year for the last decade or two they have a prize for the best building completed by a British Architect. It is hosted by the RIBA – and while in the past it has been accompanied by a hefty financial reward as well, this year the sponsor has pulled out and so it will be a prize in name only: The Stirling Prize.

It will be announced soon, and as Rowan Moore of the Observer newspaper says, it is a difficult choice:
“shortlist sets out to compare what can’t be compared – as if one had to decide what is better between, say, a shirt, a piece of cheese, an app, some nice music or a chair. It’s in the nature of such awards. The underlying absurdity is part of the fascination.”

The winner has typically been, in the past, one of the buildings of a Big Name Architect – the Zaha Hadid or Norman Fosters of the world, although the prize does not go to the architect, but to the building. Moore notes that in the past: “the Stirling has a record of recognising architects a year or two late, as with Will Alsop, Hadid and David Chipperfield in the past. In any case, the LSE building is this year’s most resonant piece of architecture, for which reason it should win.” In case you don’t know about it, this is “The Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics” pictured below.

The Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics

What is the equivalent award in New Zealand? On one hand you have the NZIA Architecture medal, awarded this year to the ASB building on Wynyard Quarter in Auckland, and the previous year to the Auckland Art Gallery. These are truly large scale buildings, leading the pack and truly worthy of world class attention – not that they get it of course, as we are merely a pimple on the buttocks at the bottom of the world.

But we also seem to have a stream of other awards. We have the Master Builders Awards, who seem to give a prize for every entry entered, a noble gesture towards inclusivity, but a shallow reward for the actual winners. We have recently had the Property Management Institute Awards, which possibly looks less at the quality of the Architecture, and more at the quality of the maintenance schedule. There have been Urban Design Awards, featuring buildings and the landscape around them, Property Council Awards, and more besides. It would be nice to think that there was some commonality between these awards in terms of the buildings that gain a gong – but then again, diversity is the breath of life. What we maybe need is an independent body, focused on Architecture, for a new way of thinking about new buildings. Who could that be now…?


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