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July 27 2012

Seven days on stage: Will Olympic tourists sprint over to the West End?

As the curtain rises on the Olympics, London's Theatreland is on tenterhooks about ticket sales, while a new musical prepares to take wing at Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium

Late sprint?

With the Olympics getting into full swing this weekend, London's West End – and its theatres in particular – are on tenterhooks, waiting to discover whether any of the incoming tourists will make the trip across the capital to see a show. Earlier in the year, Andrew Lloyd Webber warned that the summer would be a "bloodbath" for Theatreland, with theatres left empty and ticket sales through the floor. While that doesn't seem likely to happen – according to a report we on the Stage have produced this week – there's still a big question mark over whether the influx of overseas visitors will make up for a "noticeable" dip in advanced sales.

Birdsong in Beijing

In Beijing – the last Olympic host city – an example emerged this week of the potential benefits that the Games can bring to the performing arts. China's National Stadium, better known as the Bird's Nest Olympic venue, is to host its first ever stage musical. Fascination, as it's called, will open this September and will run for three years, playing to a potential capacity of 10,000 people per show.

Less than super

You could be forgiven for not having noticed, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest TV talent show – Superstar – drew to a close this week. The final of the ITV show – held slightly strangely on Wednesday night – played to 3.3 million viewers, less than half the number that similar BBC contests have attracted. As well as not proving a massive hit with viewers, the show has also sparked a few strong opinions within the industry, with Gavin and Stacey star Joanna Page describing the contest as "insulting".

Tattoo close to the bone

Controversy in Germany, meanwhile, where the Bayreuth festival opened this week, but with one notable absentee. Yevgeny Nikitin, the bass-baritone who had been due to sing the title role in a new production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, dropped out of the event after a row centring on a Nazi tattoo emblazoned on his chest. It proved a particularly sensitive subject given the festival's (and Wagner's) historic links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

Stirling work

In Northern Ireland, the new Belfast Lyric Theatre is celebrating its nomination for the prestigious Stirling prize for architecture. The venue is up against – among others – the London Olympic Stadium for the prize, which will be announced in October. Encouragingly, William Hill has the Lyric at 4 to 1 to win, compared to 5 to 1 for the Olympic stadium.

Warehouse to courthouse

London's Donmar Warehouse theatre finds itself facing a lawsuit from David Birrell, an actor who was blinded in one of his eyes after a prop gun misfired during a show. The accident happened during the 2010 production of The Passion. He is seeking £250,000 in damages.

And finally ...

Ghost the musical, which had already announced its closure in the West End this October, will now also bid farewell to Broadway. The show will shutter in New York in August, after a run of 136 performances. Still, it's not quite the end of the road: a Dutch version opens in August, while there are also plans for a US tour and other international versions.

Follow Friday – my theatrical Twitter tips

@lyricbelfast – the official Twitter feed for Northern Ireland's only full-time producing theatre, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Some interesting extra content – pics, videos and the like – available via Twitter, plus the obligatory endless retweets of people saying nice things about the theatre.

@thebenforster – Ben Forster is the winner of ITV's search for a Jesus to appear in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Lots of thanking of his supporters going on at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if he gives an insight into rehearsals for the arena tour.

@jopage – Joanna Page, best known for her role in Gavin and Stacey, but also an established stage actress. Not a huge fan of TV talent shows, it seems, but, judging from her Twitter feed, does seem to like dogs a lot.

Alistair Smith is deputy editor of The Stage. You can follow me @smithalistair © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 23 2012

RIBA Stirling prize for architecture 2012 – which building do you think should win?

London's Olympic stadium, a cancer centre in Glasgow, a theatre in Belfast, a City bank office, a Cambridge laboratory and an art gallery in Yorkshire are all on the shortlist for this year's Stirling prize for architecture. Which do you think should win?

July 21 2012

Stirling prize shortlist revealed

A theatre, a laboratory, a bank tower, an art gallery, a cancer centre and the Olympic Stadium are in the running for Britain's foremost architectural award

Simple. Restrained. Simple and restrained. Possibly also sober, plain and very much not iconic. This year's RIBA Stirling prize shortlist reflects the zeitgeist of our straitened times, with their mistrust of extravagance and waste, more than any previous. Architects such as David Chipperfield, Stanton Williams and O'Donnell + Tuomey, who never knowingly overdecorate, feature prominently.

Rem Koolhaas's practice, OMA, better known for its amazing cantilevers and improbable collisions of form, offers as its two shortlisted projects assemblies of intelligently arranged boxes. Even the Olympic Stadium, usually an occasion for rhetorical displays of national pride, is notable for what it leaves out and what it is not – it is not the Beijing bird's nest and uses considerably less steel than its Chinese predecessor.

Zaha Hadid, victorious for the last two years and not much interested in restraint, is absent. Her most likely contender, the Olympic Aquatic Centre, was not entered, probably so that it can be submitted in another year when the ungainly wings containing temporary seating – widely agreed to be the building's worst feature – are removed.

None of which means that all the projects are necessarily cheap. The stadium, for one, is not. Nor that they are insipid. Chipperfield's Hepworth Gallery has a rock-like obduracy that is anything but. But they are all works that avoid the sugar rush of instant spectacle and which, by holding back a little, help you better experience the arts, drama, landscape or sport in and around them.

The judges, led by the architect and former Royal Academy president Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, will have one or two big decisions. The first is whether to give it to the stadium, which is by far the largest and most significant project – in terms of the worldwide attention it will draw – on the list. It is a handsome thing, hard to ignore, with the interesting idea that it can be partly dismantled after the Games, so as to avoid being the usual post-Olympic white elephant. (Even if, due to political complications, this possibility is unlikely to fully exploited.) The judges may want to recognise the Olympics in some way, and make up for the failure last year to award the prize to the much-admired Velodrome.

If not the stadium, they will have to decide which is the best of the other five simple-and-restrained projects. A bank tower? Ummm, not very now. A Maggie's Cancer Centre? Like the Oscars, the Stirling prize can be attracted to serious illness, so much so that they awarded another Maggie's the prize a few years ago, but they may not feel like repeating themselves.

The judges should, of course, be swayed not at all by questions such as who and what has won before, and whether a bank, a stadium or a refuge for cancer sufferers would make the architectural profession look more lovable. They should simply decide which is the best building. Here, the decision is a tight one, as there are no real turkeys on the list and both the Hepworth Gallery and the Maggie's Centre, for example, do nice things in relating the inner life of the buildings to their surroundings.

My choice would be the Lyric theatre in Belfast, a view slightly tinged by the feeling that it would be good to look beyond the usual names and places, but mostly driven by the belief that its arrangement of materials and space, in the service of the building's purpose, are as good as anybody's. But, in an outstandingly sane year, when there are no outrageous exclusions or inclusions, any of the others would also be a good choice.

My bet is that it will come down to the stadium versus Chipperfield, with the stadium winning.

The RIBA Stirling prize will be awarded on 13 October

The six shortlisted buildings

2012 Olympic Stadium, London Populous
Odds 5/1

The Olympic stadium got some sniffy reviews when its design was unveiled five years ago – too plain, too ordinary was the general view. Now, plainness, simplicity and its economical use of steel are seen as virtues, as is the fact that it is partly demountable. In theory at least, this should make it easier to reuse after the Games. It is also a handsome, confident-looking structure. The only problems are that its price was not quite as plain and ordinary as its appearance implies, while protracted struggles to find a new use after the Games suggest that it is not as adaptable as all that. These struggles are probably more to do with politics than design, however.
Previous form (as HOK Sport, Populous's former name): Arsenal's Emirates Stadium and sliding roof over Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Maggie's centre, Gartnavel, Glasgow OMA
Odds: 9/2

With its other shortlisted project, OMA shows it can do nice. This is one of the series of Maggie's cancer centres, where leading architects design places where patients and their relatives can come for advice, counselling, company or simply peace and quiet. They were conceived by the architecture critic Charles Jencks and his wife, Maggie Keswick, who died of cancer, as antidotes to the architecturally depressing spaces in which most treatment takes place. OMA's centre is less assertive than previous centres such as Zaha Hadid's in Fife, or the Richard Rogers-designed building in London that won the Stirling in 2009. Instead, it focuses attention on the landscaping, which is designed by Jencks's and Keswick's daughter, Lily.

New Court, Rothschild Bank, London OMA (with Allies & Morrison
and Pringle Brandon)
Odds: 4/1

Given that bankers are only slightly more popular than child-abusers, it would take some nerve by the Stirling judges to give this first prize, even though Rothschild likes to protest its difference from the casino banks of ill repute. On architectural merit alone, it is a contender: it seeks to create the headquarters for a powerful financial institution, while also offering the world outside an arresting open space off a narrow City of London street. It is intricate and sometimes playful, even if not entirely politically correct. OMA is the practice founded by Rem Koolhaas, which, despite international renown, has not troubled the Stirling judges until now.
Previous form: Central China TV HQ, Beijing; Seattle Central Library

The Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge
Stanton Williams
Odds: 7/2

A place where "world-leading" scientists can study plants in the setting of the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden. As well as fulfilling taxing technical demands, the architects Stanton Williams aimed to achieve a "collegial" environment conducive to the sharing of ideas and knowledge. The result is an L-shape, like two sides of a cloister or a college court, that is also open to the landscape. The architectural approach is rectilinear, well-built, with sharp, straight lines offsetting the natural surroundings. The structure has a certain solidity, while also creating a series of layers through which light and views are filtered.
Previous form: University of the Arts, King's Cross; Tower Hill Square (public space next to Tower of London)

Lyric Theatre, Belfast O'Donnell + Tuomey
Odds: 4/1

A beautifully considered and well-made theatre by the Dublin-based O'Donnell + Tuomey, who were shortlisted last year for their An Gaeláras cultural centre in Derry. The design is about progressing from the city outside through the foyers and bars to the performance space at the heart of the building, with views to a river and greenery. It uses a lot of brick and timber, but avoids the worthiness that sometimes goes with these materials. Belfast doesn't always make headlines for its architectural quality and its new Titanic museum is a contender for the Carbuncle Cup – Building Design magazine's prize for the year's worst building. But the Lyric is on the Stirling list on merit.
Previous form: National Photographic Archive, Dublin; Photographers' Gallery London

The Hepworth, Wakefield David Chipperfield Architects
Odds: 3/1

A sober, impressive art gallery named after the Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth. It is designed by David Chipperfield, who has several Stirling near-misses to his name and one win, in 2007. His strengths are the attention he pays to light, space and material, but the judges usually end up going for something more spectacular or else for projects that are seen to have more social significance, such as schools or housing. Set next to water and to historic industrial buildings, the Hepworth seeks to address its site and emulate their Yorkshire toughness with a structure of pigmented concrete.
Previous form: Neues Museum, Berlin (shortlisted for Stirling in 2010); Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach, Germany (winner 2007) © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Exclusive: RIBA Stirling prize 2012 shortlist – in pictures

The buildings in the running for Britain's foremost architectural award share a simplicity in keeping with the austerity of the times

June 20 2012

RIBA announces 50 best buildings on longlist for Stirling prize

Olympic stadium, Belfast suburban home and Kevin McCloud design in competition for 2012 top architectural award

The 80,000-seat Olympic stadium in east London will vie against a rear extension to a suburban Belfast home for a place on the shortlist for the Stirling prize, the annual building of the year award.

In a sign of the tough business climate gripping British architecture, the longlist of the 50 best buildings in the UK features the modest domestic project as well as the centrepiece for the Olympics.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) said the list of the award-winning buildings "revealed a trend which could be coined austerity chic".

The arena that will stage the Olympic opening ceremony on 27 July has received a lukewarm reception in some quarters but is considered a contender for the £20,000 prize as the only truly large British building aiming at the Riba award this year.

It is likely to face competition from other award winners, including the Hepworth art gallery, in Wakefield, designed by Sir David Chipperfield, and the new Lyric Theatre, in Belfast, designed by O'Donnell and Tuomey.

There is evidence that there is still some money around, albeit in predictable quarters: the award winners include a lavish London headquarters for the merchant bank NM Rothschild finished in travertine, oak, aluminium and glass to designs by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

Kevin McCloud, the Grand Designs presenter who used to front the Stirling prize award live on Channel 4, could this year appear on the shortlist after a housing scheme he developed in Swindon was granted a Riba award. The project known as The Triangle, and designed by the Birmingham architect Glenn Howells, features 42 homes in an updated terrace format and cost £4.2m.

Beside the seaside there were awards for the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate, Kent, also designed by Chipperfield, and the Festival House on Blackpool's Golden Mile, a wedding venue commissioned by the council to allow tourists and others to tie the knot in front of a precisely framed view of the Blackpool Tower.

The list also reflects the continuing programme of Maggie's Centres for cancer patients, established in the memory of Maggie Jencks, wife of the architecture critic Charles Jencks. At an earlier date Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid designed some of the centre's buildings; the latest award-winning additions are in Swansea, designed by the firm of the late Japanese star architect Kisho Kurokawa, and in Glasgow, designed by Rem Koolhaas.

In Scotland there were awards for reworkings of the National Museum of Scotland, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, both in Edinburgh.

But Hadid, granted a damehood in the Queen's birthday honours, was overlooked for her Riverside Transport Museum, in Glasgow, with the building failing even to make it on to the list of the 23 best buildings in Scotland for the last year.

"There was a bit of a stooshie [fuss] because it was by Dame Zaha, but the argument was it doesn't matter about the name of the architect, what is important is the quality of the building," said Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.

International awards went to the reinvention of a Barcelona bullring as the Las Arenas shopping and leisure complex by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, and a new Centre Pompidou, in Metz, by Shigeru Ban Architects, Jean de Gastines Architects and Gumuchdjian Architects.

The winner of the Stirling prize will be announced on 13 October in Manchester. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 01 2011

Hadid's dynamic but disciplined school provides a lesson for Gove

The Evelyn Grace Academy in south London is a worthy winner of the Stirling prize, says Rowan Moore

The choice of Evelyn Grace academy has a political ring to it. At a time when Michael Gove, and his cheerleader Toby Young, are denouncing architects for robbing the public, and denying that good design has anything to do with good education, here is a prize for a school of extreme architectural ambition.

Confusingly for Gove and Young, the school's principal, Peter Walker, has established a regime of discipline and order – neat uniforms, long school days, mobile phone bans – of the kind that they might be expected to like. It is also partly funded by Ark, the charity founded by hedge fund manager Arpad Busson. In other words, its money comes from the same sort of place as much of the Tory party's funding.

The main contribution of Zaha Hadid's architecture to the school ethos is to create an energetic, if sometimes forbidding, atmosphere. It announces that the school is a serious place, not somewhere to slouch into. The design also responds to Walker's requirements for its internal arrangements.

It is not a completely perfect fit: Hadid's dynamic style is in theory more about freedom than order, and there are some crunching details where her demanding geometry encounters the budgetary and technical constraints of state school building. Nor, in straitened times, is it a model of school building that can be repeated too often. Sarah Wigglesworth's Sandal Magna school in Wakefield, which should have been shortlisted but wasn't, is a better example of how to do a lot with a little.

The Olympic velodrome was the bookmakers' favourite and, apart from the fact that it is not yet in full use, I would have agreed with them. The velodrome achieves a better match of concept, detail and purpose. But the academy is an extraordinary achievement, and there have been far dumber choices in the history of the prize.

Rowan Moore is the Observer's architecture critic © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 30 2011

Stirling prize 2011: a thrilling race through the shortlist

Jonathan Glancey rounds up the shortlist for the annual architecture prize, which this year ranges from the Olympic Velodrome in London to the Folkwang Museum in Germany

September 03 2011

Building blocks of success

The Stirling prizewinner and her shoeless team are pushing the boundaries of design

Approaching the HQ of Amanda Levete Architects in a converted warehouse in west London, it is hard not to fixate on dozens of shoes – trainers, high heels, espadrilles, loafers – discarded on a large doormat just inside the front door. Have I wandered into a super-trendy mosque or an avant-garde art installation? In fact, it's simply that employees are encouraged to work barefoot. Is this, I wonder, the result of some conviction that a connection with the earth inspires more creativity? "Well, it keeps the carpet clean," says Levete drily. "Also it's a great leveller, and it's relaxing: you can put your feet on the sofas."

It also means the office is incredibly quiet, although this might also be because there is a lot to do. This year the practice won the competition to build a 1,500 sq metre extension to the V&A Museum, and Levete is busy putting the final touches to a 12m-diameter circular timber construction that will stand outside the V&A's entrance from 17 September as part of the annual London Design Festival (Levete is married to Ben Evans, the festival director).

The "Timber Wave" will be built out of American red oak – the first time timber has been used structurally on such a large scale. "It's been a very steep learning curve," Levete admits. "We've been using laminates which are more often used in furniture-making, but on a very small scale, so we wanted to take it up a notch… It's interesting because normally what we do is very driven by function, and that's what separates architecture from art, it's a very different sensibility. But here we have an opportunity to really explore and experiment."

Much of Levete's work so far has seamlessly fused art and function, medium and message. At Future Systems, the groundbreaking architectural firm she founded with her ex-husband Jan Kaplický, Levete designed the shimmering carapace of Selfridges department store in Birmingham and the space-age media centre at Lord's cricket ground, which won the prestigious Stirling Prize in 1999.

"One of the most gratifying moments came when I was on a train going to see Selfridges completed and I overheard a woman saying, 'It's the first time I've felt proud to be coming to Birmingham,'" she recalls.

Levete and Kaplický divorced in 2006 after the pressures of living and working together became too intense (sadly, Kaplický died suddenly three years later). Their son, Josef, is now 16. Does he have architectural ambition? Levete grins. "Absolutely none. He says he'd rather do his maths homework than see another building." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 22 2011

Constructive criticism

The Balancing Barn would have livened up the rather drab Stirling shortlist. Oh well, at least there's the Carbuncle Cup to look forward to

The Olympic Velodrome, by Hopkins Architects, is a handsome building, taut and intelligent in its detail. Delivered on time and on budget, it has lightness, flair and a sense of contained drama, beneath a doubly-curving roof that some irresponsible critics have compared to a giant Pringle. It stands out from a drab-ish list of contenders for this year's Stirling prize, and is the bookmakers' favourite. There's just one problem: it has yet to perform the task for which it was designed, which is to hold Olympic cycling events before capacity crowds. So it's hard to say that it is a truly successful piece of architecture. It's a bit like a bike that's never been ridden.

The Stirling list would be less drab had it included MVRDV's Balancing Barn, a silver beam of a house projected into mid-air and built for Alain de Botton's Living Architecture holiday homes project. Then there's the Wales Institute of Sustainable Education by Pat Borer and David Lea, a work of ingenuity and rammed earth in an old slate quarry. Its inclusion would have been an opportunity to recognise architects outside the London orbit of fashion and schmoozery.

Instead, the list includes works by Zaha Hadid and David Chipperfield – both once slighted by the Stirling but now regulars – and Bennetts Associates' efficient but not very exciting Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. There is also AHMM's remodelling of an old office building in Islington. All are decent buildings, but the balance, as too often with the Stirling, is conservative and predictable.

If the velodrome is up for the prize a year too early, then a deserving winner might be O'Donnell and Tuomey's An Gaeláras cultural centre in Derry, which (though I confess it is the one work on the list I haven't seen) looks to be a robust, well-wrought and fitting sequence of spaces. Then again, the same architects might be contenders for next year's prize with their more substantial Lyric Theatre in Belfast; it might seem excessive if they won it two years running. Then again (again), they never worried about Norman Foster winning more than once, and maybe architecture, like golf, is something at which Northern Ireland is getting good.

Meanwhile, the Stirling prize's evil twin, Building Design magazine's Carbuncle Cup, is also announcing its shortlist. This award honours the country's worst building and there are some who say that it is unduly negative to pillory individual works in this way. Arguably so, but it is not half so negative to point out bad architecture as it is to put it up in the first place.

I am uninfluenced in this judgment by the fact that, with other critics, I will be an (unpaid) juror for the cup this year. I cannot possibly give an advance indication of our deliberations – mostly because I don't know what they will be – but I am struck by the poignant fact that one of this year's contenders, 3XN's new Museum of Liverpool, is a short distance from the 2009 winner, the Pier Head Terminal, and that both are in the middle of a Unesco World Heritage Site (you can read more about all this in Sunday's Observer). Equally poignant is the inclusion of Rogers Stirk Harbour's One Hyde Park, given that the practice was supported by London's former mayor on the grounds of its supposedly world-class design. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 20 2011

Pringle power? The Stirling prize shortlist

The six architects on the Stirling prize shortlist 2011 have all been there before. But could a political dark horse say 'on your bike' to the bookies' Olympic favourite?

It's never worthwhile to reduce the Stirling prize shortlist to some overriding theme, but having said that, there is one thing that unites this year's six architects: they've all been shortlisted before. Some of them several times – this is Zaha Hadid's fourth building, and David Chipperfield's seventh, which puts him in joint second place in the Stirling prize league table alongside Richard Rogers, with Norman Foster just one ahead. Does this suggest there were clear frontrunners in the Stirling race, or that a big name counts for more and smaller practices don't get a look-in?

Anyway, on with the reckless speculation. The traditional Stirling winner is a large public building, but in the current cash-strapped construction environment, there have been few of these to trumpet.

Which makes the absence of two of the main buildings on the London Olympics site conspicuous. No plaudits for the main stadium by US-based architects Populous – understandable in a way since its brief was practically to be as bog standard as possible – at which it succeeds (having a silly name for your practice doesn't help either).

And nothing for Zaha Hadid's Aquatics Centre – also understandable given its troubled history of redesigns, budget increases, temporary "water wings" imposed on it, and the fact that, er, it still isn't finished.

That leaves Michael Hopkins's Velodrome with the podium all to itself. As expected, it's currently the bookies' favourite and deservedly so. It's a handsome, unfussy building, quietly distinctive (enough to earn it a nickname: "the Pringle") and engineered as efficiently as a track bicycle. It's already had the thumbs-up from the Team GB cyclists, too, who described it as "the best in the world".

Looking at the other contenders, laudable though they are, they're not necessarily game-changing. AHMM's Angel Building reconfigures a 1980s office building with Louis Kahn-style barefaced concrete and a sheen of Mad Men mid-century glamour – very nice but perhaps too conventional to win. Bennetts Associates' Royal Shakespeare Theatre makes new sense of a messy accumulation of older buildings, but it's not a scene-stealer like the Tate Modern. Zaha's Evelyn Grace Academy is a consolation for the Aquatics Centre, and proof that her swooshing parametricism can work within tight budgets and design guidelines (is that Z-shape a touch of covert branding?). The fact that Zaha won the prize last year could hamper her chances, though. Likewise David Chipperfield's Museum Folkwang extension in Essen, another refined, sharp-edged German culture house for his collection.

Chipperfield already won with one of these in 2007, the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach, and was shortlisted for another, the Neues Museum, last year. Perhaps he should design a Museum of German Museum Designs.

That leaves a dark horse: An Gaeláras by Dublin-based O'Donnell & Tuomey in Derry, Northern Ireland. It is the first purpose-built Irish-language cultural centre in the UK, a product of the Good Friday agreement, and thus freighted with political relevance (there hasn't been much of that in Stirling world since the Scottish parliament won in 2005). But it's also a beautiful design on a hostile site. Despite being walled in on three sides, it boasts a sculptural four-storey atrium criss-crossed by stairs and galleries, smartly mixing colours and materials – the type of space that stops you in your tracks. Uplifting and finely crafted, it could well tick all the boxes. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

The race is on

From a pringle-shaped designer velodrome to an 80-year-old theatre, take a look at the six spectacular buildings competing for this year's Stirling prize

March 20 2011

Stirling buildings

Tate Britain reappraises James Stirling – who gave his name to Britain's premier architectural prize – and shows he could be good, and bad… but never dull

Did the great British architect James Stirling kill architecture in Great Britain? The question has to be asked since, as well as being an original and internationally admired talent, who is sometimes said to be the Francis Bacon of British architecture, he also designed some of the most notoriously malfunctioning buildings of modern times. Worse, two of these buildings were in the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, wherein opinion formers spent their formative years. If you want to annoy as much of the establishment as possible, there are few more effective ways than this.

In particular he and his partner James Gowan designed the history faculty and library at Cambridge, completed in 1968. Here, as they struggled to study in this alternately freezing/boiling greenhouse, with dodgy acoustics, frequent leaks and falling cladding tiles, future columnists and editors incubated a deep loathing of the building, of Stirling, and by extension all forms of ambitious modern architecture. In the 1970s the young critic Gavin Stamp made his name with a remorseless hatchet job on the history faculty. In the 1980s it narrowly escaped demolition.

In 1984 the pro-Stirling critic Reyner Banham wrote that "anyone will know who keeps up with the English highbrow weeklies (professional, intellectual or satirical), the only approvable attitude to James Stirling is one of sustained execration and open or veiled accusations of incompetence."

Behind most broadsheet tirades against modern architecture in the last 40 years stands the figure of James Stirling. And, when architects are now subjected to the most elaborate forms of control and project management, squeezing out invention in the interests of reducing risk, it is in order to avoid mishaps much like the Cambridge history faculty. Stirling was seen as the very type of the award-winning architect whose buildings don't work. He was, to boot, arrogant, lecherous and sometimes boorish. At a party in the apartment of the New York architect Paul Rudolph, he chose to express himself by urinating against its huge window, from the terrace outside, facing into the crowd of guests.

Yet he continues to hold an honoured place. The Stirling prize, inaugurated shortly after his death in 1992, is named after him. Now, as the wheel of fashion grinds inevitably round, his work is up for reappraisal. Next month Tate Britain will honour him with an exhibition based on the impressive archive of his work owned by the Canadian Centre for Architecture. These drawings will reveal him as a more subtle, complex and even charming character. They are skilful, sometimes refined, sometimes informal. Some drawings, composed as presentation pieces after a design was complete, have an abstract elegance. At other times he would cover sheets of writing paper, diary pages and the backs of plane tickets and telegrams with thickets of sketches, as he worked ideas over and over. They might be plans, diagrams or three-dimensional views. They have energy, with much-repeated lines or brisk hatching or Klee-like arrows scurrying through them.

They are signs of thinking with his hands, of trying things out, of exploring and excavating. These are not the disdainful doodles that some architects dash off, hoping that it will be taken as a sign of genius that they can be done so thoughtlessly. They show complete faith that the design of buildings is a serious business, to be pursued with time, testing, consideration and debate. He might try several versions of an elevation, with differences that would not be obvious to a casual observer.

They also show faith that architecture is something like music or painting or literature, that it is something to be composed, with tensions and harmonies to be resolved within its overall structure. Stirling kept considering his art in relation to that of others, both 20th-century figures like Le Corbusier and the Russian constructivists, and architects of the Italian renaissance, or the grand industrial architecture of Liverpool, where he grew up. His designs and drawings set up multiple dialogues with other works. And, like artists and writers, he wanted to be provocative. He wanted to wake people up.

These tensions and elaborations, these interplays of forces and allusions, should make it hard to dismiss his work as mere leaky showmanship. His Florey building for Queen's College Oxford is a sort of inhabited viaduct turned into theatrical U-shaped court, a distant derivation of the Oxford quad, facing the river Cherwell. It is Oxonian and constructivist at once. It is perverse but you would have to be a dullard not to see its drama. Students there now comment on its faults but also on the atmosphere generated by this extraordinary hemi-cauldron.

His later work is more likeable and less leaky, as Stirling became slightly less reckless, and as he started building in Germany, where the building industry seemed better equipped to realise his ambitious ideas. His 1984 Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, for example, was one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country, on account of the force of the building. In this it was a prototype of the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

At its centre is a great circular stone court, like an inside-out mausoleum or a new-built ruin, with vines falling down its walls. A system of ramps takes you through the building, as if you were climbing a hillside and, at the moments when it might become too monumental, bright curves of steel and glass lighten the mood. It is romantic, potent and playful at once, and perfectly captures the balance between monumentality and motion, between eternity and perambulation, which is the essence of museums.

The Staatsgalerie wouldn't work without the pushing and pulling of ideas you can see in the drawings. It is worked and wrought in a way few buildings are nowadays. Architects still work hard, and test different ideas, but they search more for a magic formula in the cladding or the form which will make the whole building smoothly beautiful and consistent. There is less sense that a building is composed like a painting, and that the architect should leave some of his sweat and brushmarks on the canvas. Stirling's drawings bring on a nostalgia for a way of designing – among other things, without a computer in sight – that has gone the way of dodos and drafting boards.

Does his art justify the malfunctions? There is, to be sure, more than one side to the argument: Stirling's defenders always said that his projects were victims of poor construction, cost-cutting and clumsy clients. It can also be said that time casts a rosy glow over the faults of more distant architects. The shoddiness of Nash, the impracticality of Vanbrugh and the budget-busting of many great architects in history are now almost forgotten and forgiven. The same will probably happen to Stirling.

Stirling was a very naughty boy. The pleasures of his successes came at an exorbitant cost, not only in technical failures but also artistic ideas that didn't quite come off. The number of his works that are unequivocally admirable are few. Architects are mostly more careful and responsible now, which is mostly a good thing. But, at his best, Stirling showed what powerful and moving things buildings can be, and the world would have been poorer without him. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 09 2010

'I'm happy to be on the outside'

Zaha Hadid's spectacular buildings were once dismissed as the work of a fantasist. Last week she won the Stirling prize. But despite the belated recognition she says she will never be a schmoozer

The maid comes down to let me in. She's small, middle-aged and apologetic. "Sorry, sorry, the bell's not working," she says, and whizzes us to the penthouse flat in silence. When the lift doors open I think I'm having an attack of snow blindness. The whitest whiteness everywhere – white floors, white walls, white ceilings, white fibreglass sculptures that double up as white sofas. At the far end of the room, I can just about make out a vision in crow-black and oversized sunglasses sitting behind a huge white desk. Nobody ever said Zaha Hadid was a regular girl. Today, she's wearing black arm stockings, an upside-down Issey Miyake jacket that's got a touch of the tarpaulin about it, black leggings and black wet-look booties. Her hair is hennaed reddy browny black. Hadid is 60. Only she could pull it off.

This is where she lives in Clerkenwell, east London, though it might as well be her gallery. And of all the self-created installations on show she might be the most spectacular and complex. You could see her as the Queen of Hearts screaming, "Off with their heads", at insubordinate subjects – or as the Wife of Bath cackling lasciviously through her gap tooth. She is a fantastic monster, uncompromising dictator of her own wonderland, and one of the world's great architects. Time magazine named her the world's top thinker in its 2010 list of influential people. This really is her moment. After decades of being dismissed as a fantasist whose building designs are pie in the sky (or at least on the drawing board) she is finally seeing her visions realised. Last week she won the Stirling prize for her Maxxi art centre in Rome, next week sees the public opening of her school in Hackney, her wondrous wave of an aquatics centre will feature in the 2012 Olympics, and she is about to start her first building in her country of birth, Iraq.

I first met Hadid seven years ago at her studio, also in Clerkenwell. The studio was a former school – appropriate, because you could often see her young students shaking in her presence. Back then, she sat me in front of a video to show the projects she was working on – virtual presentations of buildings that might well never get made, including the Maxxi. They were swooping and swirling, fabulous and futuristic, locked into the landscape and landscapes in their own right. One building might resemble a delta or Scalextric track, the other a clifftop; her angles were all over the place as floors merged into walls into ceilings. She always wanted to break down barriers – whether between blue-collar and white-collar workers (so at the BMW plant in Germany, the cars constantly pass desk workers on a conveyor belt) or building and landscape, or the ancient and the modern. Rather than the huge phallic constructions beloved of so many male architects, hers tended towards the womb-like – meringues and oyster shells.

Her proposed buildings were gorgeous acts of the imagination. And little more. So what changed? She takes off her designer shades and slips into designer specs. "People's perception of architecture. Cities became more ambitious again. There was a tremendous interest in public building, and architecture became more in the forefront of the discourse. So many major projects were made into competitions and that opened it to the public. There was so much more knowledge and conversation about architecture." Plus, she says, she and her staff worked like fury. In 2003, there were about 70 workers in the same building. Now it's more like 250 (no surprise it's cramped for space) with another 150 dotted around the world. She talks quickly in a deep, croaky Zsa Zsa Gabor voice that suggests too many late nights and cigarettes (she's stopped smoking now).

One of the criticisms levelled at her work is that it is not always practical or people-friendly. Hadid's nadir was in 1995 when Cardiff rejected her futuristic opera house, despite the fact that she beat 268 rivals in a competition. The design was so radical that she was asked to submit again for a second round, which she again won. The opera house was ditched and Hadid was bitter. She claimed she was the victim of xenophobia, racism, misogyny, you name it – and she had a point. Rhodri Morgan said it looked like the Ka'bah in Mecca, and that if built it might incite a fatwa. After that, the work dried up for a few years. There were stories that her family would drive up in Rollers to hand her bundles of cash to keep the practice going. "I wish that was true. My family, my brother supported me. But it would have been seen as over-indulgent if they'd just carried on supporting me. In the office we really had to get our act together."

Did she think her work would never get made? "No. The reason I say no is because I made a decision in the mid-90s to not let it get to me. After Cardiff I decided I'm not just going to stop, and meow about it. It was very upsetting, but I knew I just had to carry on."

Hadid was born in Baghdad in 1950. She was inspired by both parents – her father was socialist politician turned businessman, her mother taught her to draw. She grew up as a secular Muslim, attending convent school. In the Iraq of her teens, Muslims lived alongside Jews and Christians, the 1960s were in full flow, women were empowered and anything seemed possible. In her mid-teens, she went off to school in Switzerland, studied maths in Beirut and came to Britain to study architecture in 1971. She has been here ever since.

Astonishingly, the school in Hackney is her first permanent building in England (Maggie's cancer centre in Kirkcaldy was opened in 2006). Why has she struggled so much? Well, first there's been the argument about her work, which tends to focus on spectacle rather than the purely functional. Put simply, she always wants her buildings to look great rather than just do a job. "They should have an impact on the street life and they should draw people to them. They have to be interesting. I don't think everything should be the same and this obsession with sameness had to do with the industrial period of mass production and now we don't have to look at things like that."

Why did so many people think it was impossible for Hadid to realise her architectural dreams? "I don't think people believed in the fantastic. By the 1970s people had lost faith, and by the 1980s even more so with the whole postmodernity, and the idea that the city should remain as it always used to be. London still suffers from that to a degree."

But perhaps the bigger problem was Hadid herself. So many people didn't like her, thought she was too big for her booties, an outsider, an interloper in a male preserve. Who needed a mouthy diva in a world where men got by perfectly nicely, talking politely and shaking hands on the golf course?

Look, she says, times have moved on, female architects are accepted much more these days. Really? Where are the next generation of Zaha Hadids then? "They're there." Give me names, I say. "Ach, they're students."

She tells me she has loads of female students (and I've seen them at her office) but there is a practical problem with women. "Especially now they're liberated; they look after the home, they look after the children, they look after the work and with architecture I think it's important to have continuity. It's not like nine to five, you can't just switch on and off."

So has the world really changed that much, or has she simply become part of that establishment? (After all she was presented with a CBE by Prince Charles in 2002.) She smiles. "No, I'm not part of the network. I'm not saying I want to be on the outside, but if I'm left on the outside that's where I'll operate from. It's a nice place to be."

She has a lovely crooked smile, and despite her famous toughness and refusal to schmooze there is warmth. I could see her as an earth mother, but she has no children and lives alone in the flat. Has she made sacrifices to get where she has? "No, no." A second later she's changed her mind. "Of course it has an effect on your personal life. But it wasn't because 'I'm going to sacrifice everything to do this'. It's just the way it is."

Is there a man in her life? "No, no." Has there been one recently? "Well, not recently." Is she happy with that? "I don't think about it in this way. Things happen in life. Maybe there are people who are more strategic than I am."

When was the last time she had a boyfriend? "I can't talk about that. It's private. I can't." For once Hadid looks almost bashful. Does she think men are scared of her? "No I don't think so." Pause. "Well maybe some men are." She has a reputation for terrifying people. Did she deliberately create that image? "No I didn't create that. I'm very nice and very charming." And so she is. Today. But she's also known for saying things like "I don't do nice".

"They're not used to an opinionated woman. Men think a woman should not have an opinion. I think more so here than other places." She says British men have such a strange relationship with women – stunted, suspicious, primitive. Why? "They're scared of women. The relationship between men and women in Britain is not normalised. Never has been. I think it's part of the problem. I made a decision when I was in school that I'd have a lot of male friends. But you take a married guy here and he wants to have dinner with a friend who happens to be a woman, it is seen as horrifying. Maybe not so much in America. There are these tensions that aren't necessary." Now she's really warming to the subject. "It's very strange here. There are many other people in England who don't get work – very talented people like [architect] Nigel Coates. I don't think people can deal with unusual people. They're so used to the manner of solicitation as the way to move forward. People have become so used to the schmoozing, they think it's the way it has to be."

Has she ever played golf? "No." Just think how many buildings you could have got made if you'd got a set of clubs, I say. She grins through the gap tooth. "I realised many years ago that there's a certain world I can't enter. As a woman you're not accessible to every world."

She must be now that she's got such clout? "Well now because they know me. But even now I'm not going to go boating or golfing with my clients. All of these guys go powwowing. I was really staggered." And she's so staggered she pulls down her glasses. "I was invited to a lunch in New York City, and I was meeting VIPs, and I rang the bell and they told me what floor to go to and I arrive at the floor and this guy saw me and almost had an epileptic fit because women are not allowed on that floor. In New York! Women were not allowed on that floor!! That was two years ago. Isn't that staggering?"

She hears somebody coughing in the background. "Hey Roger!" She doesn't quite click her fingers. "I always guess where Roger is because he coughs." Roger, Hadid's charming publicist, appears. "Why are you in the toilet?" she asks. He points to his iPhone. "I'm sorry, I was just talking."

I ask if I can look round the rest of the apartment. Sure, she says. Her bedroom gives me another attack of snow blindness – huge white double bed, white blinds, white dressing table with dozens of perfume bottles shaped into their own skyline. In front of the bed is a big flat-screen telly and in the bathroom a huge mirror curved and cut like a land mass. "The only thing about this flat is there's no kitchen," she says. How can she live without a kitchen? "Well it did have one, but I took it away. It was ugly." Does she ever cook? "No, I used to have someone to cook, but he's gone now. I go out all the time."

What does she do to relax? "Relax?" Suddenly she seems rather foreign, as if she's not quite understood the question. "Relax? Nothing." But with buildings on site in France and Britain and Milan and Azerbaijan and Spain and China, there's not that much time for relaxing.

What did Prince Charles say to her when he presented her with the CBE? "He asked me if I practise in Britain." I burst out laughing.

"Really. You think that's funny? It is a funny place, Britain." Is it home? "It is. I like it actually." What does she like about it? "It's fuddy-duddy, it's grey." Maybe she wouldn't stand out as much elsewhere? "I don't know. I stood out in China. It's the way I am." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 04 2010

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

October 02 2010

Hadid's design edges out Ashmolean to win the Stirling prize

Judges praise 'structural pyrotechnics' of Maxxi national art museum in Rome

Architect Zaha Hadid's striking design for Maxxi, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, last night won the £20,000 Riba Stirling prize 2010, beating competition from contenders including Oxford's revamped Ashmolean Museum and a primary school in Clapham, south London.

The award, which is in its 15th year and is made in association with the Architects' Journal and Benchmark, was presented at a ceremony in the Roundhouse in north London. It acknowledges the feisty spirit of Zaha Hadid Architects' new structure in Italy, which resembles a series of jutting concrete and glass boxes.

The award, the judges said, marks the British-Iraqi architect's years of radical work, much of which has stayed on the drawing board.

"This is a mature piece of architecture, the distillation of years of experimentation, only a fraction of which ever got built," they said. "It is the quintessence of Zaha's constant attempt to create a landscape as a series of cavernous spaces drawn with a free, roving line. The resulting piece, rather than prescribing routes, gives the visitor a sense of exploration. It is perhaps her best work to date."

Hadid's work has been nominated for the award on three previous occasions, in 2005, 2006 and 2008, but this is the first time she has won.

While remarkable for its "structural pyrotechnics", the judges noted the building was actually organised into five main areas, all lit naturally through a system of controllable skylights, louvres and beams that "create uplifting spaces".

"Maxxi is described as a building for the staging of art, and whilst provocative at many levels, this project shows a calmness that belies the complexities of its form and organisation," added the judging panel, which this year included lay members Lisa Jardine, the historian and writer, and Mark Lawson, the arts broadcaster.

While the museum in Rome was the bookies' favourite to win, Rick Mather's Ashmolean refurbishment decisively won the public vote last week in a poll conducted by members of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the general public.

The Oxford museum earned 43.3% of the popular vote, while David Chipperfield's Neues Museum in Berlin came in a poor second with 24.1%. Hadid's building in Rome was the third most popular, with de Rijke Marsh Morgan's Clapham Manor Primary School coming in fourth, with 9.5%.

Other contenders for the prize this year were Theis and Khan's Bateman's Row and DSDHA's Christ's College school in Guildford. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 24 2010

Stirling contenders comes up short

The 2010 Riba Stirling shortlist is out and, as usual, the committee has missed some of the best candidates

There is a band of buildings, skilful and brave in their design, that will feature prominently in future histories of current architecture. Some are world famous, some are hugely popular, some represent new ideas surfacing for the first time. All share the same badge of honour. They did not win the £20,000 Riba Stirling prize, the award for "the architects of the building which has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year".

These buildings include the Eden Project in Cornwall, Tate Modern, Selfridges in Birmingham, the New Art Gallery in Walsall, Will Alsop's Hotel du Department in Marseille, Zaha Hadid's Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg and her BMW Central Building in Leipzig. The British Library in St Pancras, London, should also have won: although unfashionable and controversial when it opened, its quality becomes more apparent with each passing year.

Meanwhile the prize has been awarded to projects that have since subsided into obscurity. These include the Magna Centre in Rotherham, whose victory in 2001 seemed to surprise even its architect, Chris Wilkinson. The prize has an instinct for the compromise candidate, for the one least likely to frighten any horses.

This year some exceptional buildings haven't even made the shortlist, announced last week. One is the Nottingham Contemporary Art Centre by Caruso St John, a building that responds professionally to a demanding brief, budget and site. It is the work of client and architects who are both good and committed. Its galleries are scrupulously designed for the display of art. It deals beautifully with sloping terrain, allowing internal and external public routes to run through it. More than that, it tries something unusual, which is to see how ornament can be used on a modern building. It is clad in pale green concrete panels imprinted with lace patterns, creating a play of apparent lightness and actual heaviness.

Idea is translated into material, which is something architects should do. Nottingham Contemporary stands outside the usual run of decent-but-predictable modern architecture of which there is plenty. It is a public, civic building that makes a contribution to its city. It is an opportunity to recognise buildings north of Watford, which is something Stirling juries sometimes worry about, but the opportunity was not taken.

The list also omits the British Embassy in Warsaw by Tony Fretton, who must wonder what he has done to upset the Stirling fairy. Last year Fretton was the victim of a bizarre and nasty press campaign, which complained that two of the five prize judges were predisposed in his favour. This overlooked the fact that the other three weren't, or that, year after year, the Stirling jury is loaded in favour of the established and middlebrow.

As it turned out, the supposedly biased jury didn't choose Fretton's shortlisted entry, the Fuglsang art museum in Denmark. Instead they opted for Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre in Hammersmith, London, by Richard Rogers's practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour. This is a nice building, but it wasn't pushing any boundaries to reward a small project by a 76-year-old already amply recognised.

Fretton is not an ingratiating architect. His plain buildings can look ordinary in photographs. Nor is he a slick minimalist. What's good about his work is the subtle relationships he creates between building, people, landscape and – when they are galleries – art. It is surely part of the job of prizes like the Stirling to draw attention to the un-obvious, the things whose qualities are easily overlooked.

Rather than Nottingham and Warsaw, the shortlist this year's prize includes two schools, and a house and studio built by an architect couple for themselves. All are good buildings, designed by lovely people, and it's possible that the jury wanted to send a message to the government by including the schools. Look, they seem to be saying to the school-axing Michael Gove, the design of places of learning does matter. But the house doesn't open up new ideas the way Nottingham does, or have its public importance, while the prize's role is to recognise the best architecture rather than send messages.

Also on the shortlist is the extended Ashmolean museum, Oxford, by Rick Mather Architects. This earns its place for the way it organises a complex array of galleries behind the museum's original, Grade I-listed building. But it displays a cloth ear for materials, structure and detail. Its glass and steel balustrades are in jarring shopping-mall moderne, and if the choice was between this and Nottingham, the latter should have won.

The good thing about this year's list is that it includes the two projects that were always the most likely and deserving winners, Zaha Hadid's MAXXI (Museum of 21st Century Arts) in Rome, and the Neues museum in Berlin by David Chipperfield with Julian Harrap. The latter is a beautifully poised, meticulous, but also creative shaping of a new museum out of the bombed-out ruin of an old one. It is a smash hit in its home city. It represents a way of doing architecture, where the signature of the architect is not always apparent, that breaks with the icon-building of recent years.

MAXXI is a Wagnerian blast from the brass section of the orchestra. It is the consummation of years of imagining and fighting for new ways of forming and arranging buildings. It has flaws, but it is a magnificent urban experience, a passeggiata played out on multiple intersecting levels. Hadid, the most famous woman architect in history, and possibly the most famous living British architect, has never been recognised by the Stirling. In Stirling-think, this would be a reason for giving her the prize.

To choose between these two is tough – Berlin just shades it for me – but if either wins the Stirling will break its habit of shirking the most powerful works. The thing to fear would be a split jury when the winner is chosen in October, with a third, compromise candidate surging through. Then the Stirling really would have lost all claim to be about the best architecture, as opposed to the smooth management of judging committees. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 22 2010

Best of British bricks

The Stirling prize is awarded to the best new building in the UK and Europe by a British architect. Take a look at the shortlist

July 21 2010

Zaha Hadid tipped to win Stirling prize for architecture

The British-Iraqi designer was nominated for her museum of 21st century art in Rome

Zaha Hadid, the Iraq-born British architect whose avant garde designs have struggled to win acceptance in the UK, was last night tipped as the favourite to win the country's top architecture award for a sinuous museum of 21st century art in Rome that the Royal Institute of British Architects regards as her best building yet.

The designer of the €150m MAXXI museum will vie for the Stirling Prize with a €200m reworking of the Neues Museum in Berlin, by David Chipperfield, another British architect who has struggled to win major commissions in his home country. Two schools, a project to double the size of the Ashmolean museum in Oxford and a home and office development in east London make up the remainder of the shortlist for the £20,000 prize which is awarded to the architect of the best new European building built or designed in the UK.

The bookmaker William Hill has Hadid as evens favourite, followed by Rick Mather at 5/1 for the £62m Ashmolean project and Chipperfield at 11/2.

Hadid, 59, is widely recognised as one of the world's leading architects, but is yet to complete a major building in the UK. Her first is set to be the London 2012 Olympic swimming pool and diving centre.

The Stirling shortlist also highlights the quality of school buildings completed prior to the deep cuts to the education budget. Architects last night seized on the naming of two schools for the first time in the award's 15-year history as evidence the government should continue to recognise the value of good design.

The £2.5m Clapham Manor primary school in south London designed by the firm of De Rijke Marsh Morgan and a £14.4m addition to Christ's College school in Guildford by DSDHA will challenge the more expensive arts projects when the prize is announced in October. The move comes after Michael Gove, the education secretary, announced the scrapping of the £55bn Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

"They represent what all schools should be: light, well-laid-out and well-equipped environments in which all students can flourish," said Ruth Reed, president of the RIBA which runs the award. "Investment in well designed schools demonstrates to teachers and pupils how much they are valued and has measurable impact – attendance and results rise; truancy and bullying fall. With the programme to improve our extremely poor school estate now much reduced it could be some time before we see such exemplar school buildings on the Stirling shortlist again."

"If you engage good architects you get social value and community value that goes beyond the bottom line and has a more persistent legacy," added Deborah Saunt, a partner in DSDHA. "This is not about cost. Our school came in at less per square metre – £1,960 – than a typical school under the BSF programme, which cost around £2,400 per square metre."

Neither school on the shortlist was designed under the BSF initiative, which aimed to rebuild or refurbish most of the nation's secondary schools. Saunt added that BSF's "industrial production of schools is not something that has proven to produce quality yet".

"There have been a lot of commercial architecture practices churning out schools and not giving them the attention they deserve," she said. The smallest project on the shortlist is a £1.6m home and office building in Shoreditch, east London, designed by Theis and Khan Architects. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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