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Zaha Hadid was the right choice

This stunning Rome museum is just the kind of project the Stirling prize should celebrate. Shame it could never have been built in Britain

So Zaha Hadid's Maxxi, a museum of 21st-century art in Rome has won the 2010 Stirling prize , the £20,000 award made annually for the best building designed by a British architect completed in the course of the current year. The Maxxi was in competition for the Stirling prize with the restored Neues Museum, Berlin, by David Chipperfield, and the freshly extended Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, by Rick Mather. Other competitors, although these could in no way be compared in terms of building type, cost or ambition to this trio of major arts projects, were two thoughtful south-eastern schools, in Guildford and Clapham, and a block of flats in London EC2. The public vote was for the Ashmolean.

Without doubt, Hadid's win raises the award's profile. It needs the glister of genuinely imaginative architects. Whether or not Hadid needs the Stirling prize is another question, although you tend to think she still relishes recognition in a country that has not exactly done her a lot of professional favours. In 1995, her scheme for an eye-opening opera house for Cardiff Bay that might have set the tone for a very special development of this Welsh seascape, was turned down in favour of the banal sweep of buildings there today.

Not everyone agrees with the final decision. The online community, at least as represented by readers of Building Design magazine, had already begun to savage Hadid before Saturday night was over. It sends out the wrong messages to architectural students, commented one, at a time when they should be aspiring to design schools; another, responding to the story of Hadid's struggle to win recognition in Britain, snapped: "If she really had talent, it wouldn't have been a struggle." Ouch.

But my view is that Maxxi is a captivating building. Within its serpentine halls and unexpected galleries, the visitor with an open mind can find unselfconscious references to the works of such baroque masters as Guarino Guarini, echoes of Rome's Spanish Steps and its Piazza del Popolo, as well as references to futurist paintings, sudden blasts from the Soviet constructivism of the early 1920s, as well as something of the dunescapes of southern Iraq that so captured the imagination of the young Hadid. And it could never have been built in Britain, because it has been designed and built over a long haul, for functions that have yet to emerge, and for unembarrassed delight.

No, Maxxi isn't a model for new primary schools in London. What it offers instead is an adventure in and through architecture. Criticise it all you like, but what Hadid's latest venture in Rome does is raise the stakes for the Stirling. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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