Stirling Prize Winner announced

Fri 12 Oct 2018
Cover 12.10.18

This week we take a break from policy announcements to look at the architecture profession’s ‘Oscars’ ceremony. The Stirling Prize winner is the new European headquarters for media giant Bloomberg by Foster and Partners. It is a cross between ‘Versailles and an office’ and the largest stone building in London since St Paul’s.

Winning the Stirling Prize is indeed the pinnacle of any architect’s career. Judges decided Bloomberg was the best building and when Foster's lead architect, Michael Jones, gave a gracious acceptance speech, it felt like all was well with architecture. As RIBA President Ben Derbyshire said, it was a celebration of 'the incredible successes of British architecture.' But it seems it was not the people’s choice. Daisy Froud captured it perfectly when she suggested that the winner might have done with a bit less money.

This year’s Stirling prize goes to the heart of what architecture is for. Does architecture have a moral purpose? Could it have a moral purpose? Are all buildings created equal? To be unkind you might say, 'Of course Bloomberg won the prize. It Cost £1.3 bn'. The judges knew their choice was neither fashionable or even popular. They chose it because it contains the three qualities considered fundamental to great architecture – it is supremely functional, extremely well-built and sublimely beautiful.

Are these three classic qualities no longer enough? Can architecture nowadays afford to be just be about the building? The clients and architects were very careful to design the building as ‘a good neighbour’ by allowing the public to view The Roman Temple of Mithras and the thousands of artefacts returned to their original location. Was it precisely this neighbourliness that clinched the prize, along with all its other qualities: not only a great building, it is also a great neighbour?

Does the problem run deeper? Do our discomfort lie in its conspicuous, ostentatious, unabashed, all conquering, wealth? While people are sleeping in the neighbourhood's doorways, the architecture profession is actively promoting Bloomberg as the pinnacle of its achievement.

We agree that architecture and planning matter to all people and should work for everybody. I looked abroad to get a new perspective. Featured below are a couple of housing models abroad.

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Architect Bjarke Ingels' firm has completed Dortheavej Residence, an affordable housing development in Copenhagen made up of prefabricated modules stacked on top of one another. It is light, airy and spacious – a luxury in Copenhagen.

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The Royal Institute of Town Planners is looking at examples from abroad too and published a briefing on social housing in Flanders. 

'Public supply of social housing contributes to a high-quality design of public space and the liveability of cities and places.’

Only 6% of Flemish housing is ‘social’.  Authorities realised more social housing was needed but the general public were much more negative about the prospect when it came to building in their neighbourhood. Sounds familiar? The article looks at funding models, public versus private sector provision and how access to social housing is strictly regulated by legislation and allocated in order of registration. Can we learn from these examples?

Until next week. Please make sure to send in your ideas to
Author: Jane Briginshaw, Design England

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