Tonight a building designed by architect Zaha Hadid won the Stirling Prize, the RIBA’s flagship prize for architecture, with an art and architecture gallery in Rome called the MAXXI. The ceremony was broadcast live on BBC2 as a Culture Show special, having in previous years been televised on Channel 4.
I watched some of the live show on TV and found myself shouting at the set quite a lot, eventually giving in to go and eat with the family. Some of my friends and contacts on twitter appeared to agree with my reaction, though possibly not for the same reasons! Whilst I was away from the screen I began to wonder what non-architects thought about the programme, and the Prize.
Architecture doesn’t appear much on TV really, unless we’re talking about home makeovers. So this annual slot is either an anachronism or an opportunity. Is it best spent?
What does the programme, and the Stirling Prize, make ordinary, non-architect, non-construction people think about architecture? Is it inspiring or irrelevant? What does it tell you about us?
What does it do for our consultant and contractor partners (who don’t get mentioned)? After all, a great building is never the product of one person, and to pretend it is, is to me revealing about what some of the profession feels about its own contribution to the built environment.
As you know, I’m generally less interested in what architects think about themselves and more about what other people think about architects. After all, it is other people who give us our reason to be, so over to you.
What do you think?
Su, since I’m in the pub I’ll keep it short. But I saw very little of the programme, but thought it was badly presented and didn’t really learn anything that would have been of interest (to a non-architect at least). As much as it was a beautiful building, why it won the prize over the others isn’t really someone like myself can appreciate. To me a building has to encapture it’s purpose for being, as far as I could see the candidates all had their winning features, but why were we not given an opportunity as non architects to give our opinion, as you have so kindly done Su?
Martin Brown says
Su, like you I only caught part of the programme as it was family tea time here. I tuned in during the school section and found it, well, patronising in the commentary and in summing up. The criteria for short listing wasn’t at all clear. One one hand we heard that good education went hand in hand with good architecture, but I got the feeling judgement was solely on aesthetics.
Where are the sustainability, end user involvement/engagement, build-ability, fm, building in use performance considerations.
By selecting only ‘new’ building how can RIBA claim they make a contribution to the world of architecture. Surely in these times we talk more of facilities, not buildings, matured and proven over time. To me this all demonstrates that architects may be out of touch with client/users/maintainers needs and current value drivers.
David Sharpe says
So, as a Structural Engineer, where to begin? It’s a Saturday night, so let’s see what happens if I relax, let my hair down, and say what I think.
The idea of a prize for a good project, as judged by your peers or by a wider audience, is a good one. With architecture, what is defined by ‘good’ is subjective, and so the fact that I do not like this year’s winning building is probably my problem.
However, the reasons I don’t get on with this year’s award, and the way it is presented, might shed some light on why many who work in creating the built environment have a problem with the Stirling Prize.
How many TV shows, when running a on a specialist subject, have someone presenting it who does not have an ability to get the technical details right? Listening to someone confusing cement for concrete gets boring after a while. Might be common I suppose, but widespread does not equal acceptable, even if it is a minor quibble on my part.
What is more of a problem is the lack of acknowledgement that other players in the construction process even play a part in creating these potential prize-winning projects. Where is the contractor mentioned, without whose skill and care the architectural design will never match the drawing-board vision. And who are the other professionals who the architect depends upon to make the building safe and habitable?
This flaw is not present in many other awards run by other professional bodies and trade associations. My own, the Institution of Structural Engineers, is scrupulous on this.
And in my own view, this sort of prima-donna attitude to their colleagues is common in the architecture similar to that applauded tonight. Architecture that ignores its context and function seems, in my limited study, to be practised by architects that ignore the team around them. In this, they are not modern – they are of the 19th century.
Richard Salmon says
Just about everything my fellow engineer David just said plus:-
If I was the structural engineer on MAXXI I would be pretty bloody proud. I can see some fairly sizeable problems that have been overcome there (with no credit).
However, architecturally I don’t really see anything “new” here, just modernism in a slightly different order. A boxy passive concrete anaconda.
My vote would have gone to Neues, with The Ashmolean a close second and the Theis/Khan multispace third. The schools didn’t really grab me (nothing particularly special compared to any other) and MAXXI in last place.
Not just because of my views on conservation – Architecture is as much about clever adaptive re-use/regeneration as it is about flashy new buildings – Neues required some serious thought given the constraints of the existing shell and the “appropriateness” of any new interventions. I think the result of Mr Chipperfield’s work here is exquisite (not forgetting the considerable efforts of Julian Harrap Conservation to achieve these results and a very important, but unnamed engineer!).
That is all….
“…just modernism in a slightly different order. A boxy passive concrete anaconda.”
Agreed. How is this a significant evolution of architecture? It might show mature Hadid, but that’s a different thing entirely.
I am judging from photos, not experience (I’m in the wrong hemisphere to visit…) but my impression is that MAXXI is austere, clever and without soul. Neues Museum makes my heart leap in delight at old and new dovetailing to generate evocative spaces. Degrees of evocativeness might not be the measure fit for the Stirling Prize, but neither should Hadid’s architectural evolution be the gauge.
Lincoln Green says
Think of the Stirling Prize in the same light as the Booker prize. As a celebration of contribution to architecture, it justifiably stands as a means of recognising greatness in design of the built environment. It may be at the expense of contractors and engineers, however its equal in literature recognises the author at the expense of publishers and printers. It is arguable that the relative contributions of publishers and printers to the delivery of a successful novel are significantly less than those made by contractors and structural engineers to the delivery of stunning architecture, but this is missing the point. The Stirling prize is for architects.
I’ve seen the TV programme, and comment from a non-architect viewpoint. So what do I think of the prize winner? Of course, I’m full of admiration for Zaha Hadid. But no, I don’t like her building. I can see why it is a structure deserving of architectural merit and I can understand how it will work as a back-drop of modern contemporary art. But it’s a difficult structure to make sense of unless viewed from above, from where the protruding concrete carbuncle finds its place. The problem is that the merit in the implementation of the design, extends beyond the design itself. Its true greatness is found in the structural engineering solutions, paving the way to delivering all those flowing lines. I find this much more impressive, but that’s probably because I’m more of an engineer than an architect and I’m not a fan of concrete.
Luke O'Rafferty says
I have just got around to watching the program and I’m afraid although I agree with the sentiments of most people here, I think Lincoln Green is correct. This is not an award for non-architects, neither as participants nor spectators.
As far as I could tell the only criteria for the prize was, in the words of Ruth Reed (RIBA president), to “the architects of the building that has done the most for British architecture in the last year.”
With that criteria I can’t see something small and relatively personal like Bateman’s Row getting anywhere. Similarly with budget cuts, building an interesting school, although worthy, doesn’t have a great deal of a future.
That leaves the museums. Personally I would have gone for the Ashmolean, but you have to admit the MAXXI makes a dramatic statement whether or not you like that statement. I guess it was likely that an international project had a head start anyway if you are looking for a project that “sells” British architecture.
So to actually try and answer some of Su’s questions:
Yes it is an opportunity. However the Stirling prize is irrelevant to the lay-person in the same way that the Turner prize or something of that ilk is. It doesn’t pander to non-architects which may or may not be ok depending on your stand point. As a construction person I just try to remember this is not a prize for the best building. Here I agree with David; this is architects showing off how clever they are.
Robin Brittain says
I find it interesting, comments regarding the criteria for judging the Stirling Prize awards – how, why etc…With the award given to the chosen building, MAXXI: The National Museum of XXI Century Arts, in Rome by Zaha Hadid Architects.
I do question, with specifics to architecture, ‘what actually is an award’? ‘What is it for’ and what does it stand for’? I.e. what constitutes an award? Architecture is a multi-faceted term and subject encompassing so many aspects and relationships to art, science, technology, connection with surroundings, environment, socio-economic aspects and so on etc… From design through to build-ability etc… Involving multi-disciplinary professionals, crafts and trades people etc… Is an award for Architecture centred around design and aesthetics, or more, with identification for recognition for other aspects and relationships, and those involved with a building or structures being?
And I question ultimately ‘what is the value of an award’? Going slightly off-piste with this from the original post and as added thought;
I recently undertook a small research study, whereby I took 20 random Architectural Practices, having a web-site presence, through which I found that 16 used wording along the lines of “We are an award winning practice”. What does this plethora of awards mean? That Architectural practices are good at ‘award winning’? And what for? What are the Qualitative and Quantitative
roles in awards.
What separates or distinguishes between awards, and award giving?
Chris Witte says
As a non architect, construction person and sponsor who was at the awards last night, I can confim that there were several other awards that were not part of the televised media piece. Awards for best projects invovling Conservation, Sustainability, Public spaces, Education design, Fresh talent, and Client of the year. Admittedly it’s still quite narrow, but not as narrow as the TV coverage implies. I would like to know whether RIBA drives the sole focus on Stirling or the media partner. The non TV part also did more to recognise developers and construction companies. ( not enough…but more!)
I guess the challenge is do one award in detail or many more superficially. In my opinion the detailed approach is probably the right one. Architects have to enlighten us as to why they are doing what they are doing with our buildings. When we understand, it’s usually exciting, even if as a bunch in this context they come across somewhat self serving, and the criteria are a complete mystery!
Other awards such as Building Magazine’s ( televise these? ) are more broad based and cover off recognition of all construction stakeholders. Not all awards need to be the same surely?
PS Neues Museum is the best!
Amanda Baillieu, executive editor of BD and former Stirling Prize Judge has blogged this morning about the secrecy of the awards process:
David C says
What are architects doing on the Culture Show when they have made architecture culturally irrelevant by saying that only qualified architects can design architecture?
Generally all other cultural activities any one can do Art, Music, Writing, inventions, interior design, acting, Film directing & politics
Politics is cultural because any body can do it otherwise we would live in a dictatorship.
This is probably why the great architects tend to have one thing in common that they where self tort such as Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Joseph Paxton, Mackintosh, Buck Minster Fuller & Gaudy, even Foster & Rogers started a practice before they where qualified.
Visionary leaders in other fields tend not to be qualified or trained such as Picasso, Banksey, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Tim Smit and Henry Ford.
I think it is there ability to visualize and build new that makes them grate, things that are new can not be regulated by there nature.
One of the reasons for having awards is to encourage people to come up with new idea’s so every one can benefit from there art.
Architecture is difficult as it is stuck between being technical and an Art and can be undercut by developers & builders may be the awards should go to them to encourage better architecture!