This must be the least critically popular Stirling Prize shortlist yet. RIBA president Sunand Prasad described it as ‘a fascinating set of schemes,’ but hardly anyone seemed to agree. Jonathan Glancey in The Guardian hoped that the inclusion of the Liverpool One master plan was ‘some kind of drunken joke’, adding that its completion during the city’s year as European Capital of Culture ‘was as close to satire as architecture gets.’ Tom Dyckhoff, in The Times, at least said that the prize still acts as a ‘litmus test’ of British architecture (he was on the jury that selected the shortlist), but still he was broadly unimpressed: ‘how few creep over the bar into excellence!’ Even the impeccably polite Ellis Woodman of Building Design, described some buildings up for the Stirling as ‘pretty leftfield’.
More remarkably, the editor of the awards’ media sponsor, Kieran Long at the AJ, laid into the shortlist and offered his own alternative. He described the list as having ‘nothing to do with good architecture’ before focusing most of his displeasure on Richard Rogers, who is featured twice: for the Protos winery in Spain, and the Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre in west London. Long, who is not on the judging panel this year, even had to make up a word to convey his annoyance, criticising Rogers for being unable to reconcile the Maggie’s Centre’s ‘closedness’ with its role as a civic amenity.
The Stirling Prize’s new commercial sponsor, Chinese architectural visualisation specialists Crystal CG, also caused problems. Building Design led an attack on RIBA’s unpatriotic lack of solidarity for letting a Chinese company get in on the act. The criticism was largely nonsensical – treating the selection of a commercial sponsor as an honour to be bestowed rather than a desperately sought-after source of revenue – but, even more, it was naïve and reactionary. BD’s editor Amanda Baillieu’s article on the subject began charitably – ‘leaving aside China’s ongoing repression of minority groups’ – and then turned it into an argument for economic protectionism: ‘the RIBA should have realised that by signing up a company that undercuts its own members’ work smacks of gross hypocrisy.’ Given that the shortlist features work by British architects working abroad – Rogers in Spain, Tony Fretton in Denmark – perhaps Baillieu’s stance might seem a touch ironic, or even hypocritical, itself. As Penny Lewis has argued, the glossy images and worldwide success of Crystal CG, should be celebrated rather than feared: we should be grateful that anyone, anywhere, still has the money to ensure that the Stirling Prize continues to come with a financial reward.