The RIBA Stirling Prize at 21

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A day before the winner of this year’s Stirling Prize is revealed, the AJ has launched its first-ever documentary, which looks at Britain’s top architecture award

The RIBA Stirling Prize at 21 is a 30-minute feature about the history of the prize.
The film revisits previous winning buildings to see how they look now, and features exclusive interviews with Richard Rogers, Simon Allford, and Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey among others.

Projects profiled in the film include O’Donnell + Tuomey’s LSE Student Centre, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ West London Maggie’s Centre, Herzog & de Meuron’s Laban Centre, OMA’s Gartnavel Maggie’s and Zaha Hadid Architects’ Evelyn Grace Academy.

The RIBA Stirling Prize at 21
Burntwood School

The high-profile industry figures we have interviewed have experience of the Stirling Prize either as winners, nominees or clients. ‘There’s no expectation that you might win it; you live in hope – architects live in hope’, says Allford in the film, whose practice Allford Hall Monaghan Morris won last year’s prize for Burntwood School.

The interviewees discuss the importance of the prize in relation to other accolades in architecture and what it has meant for their practices in particular. ‘The Stirling Prize has been a great thing for the profession,’ says Ivan Harbour of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, which won in 2009 for its Maggie’s Centre in west London.

The RIBA Stirling Prize at 21
Laban Centre

‘The Stirling Prize gives you confidence that you are doing something and it is recognised by a knowledgeable public – that’s uplifting, it’s good,’ says Rogers, who appears at the beginning of the film. Laura Lee, chief executive of Maggie’s, also appears in the documentary: ‘Winning the Stirling Prize communicates the role of architecture beyond the field of architects,’ she says.

The film also looks at the impact of not winning the prize. It features a candid interview with five-time nominees Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey of O’Donnell + Tuomey. ‘The Stirling Prize means a lot to the story of architecture,’ says Tuomey. ‘It must be wonderful to win, but it’s not hell to lose.’

The RIBA Stirling Prize at 21
West London Maggie’s Centre

Commissioned by the AJ’s architecture editor Laura Mark, the documentary also includes footage – exclusively captured by Jim Stephenson for the AJ – of all six contenders for this year’s prize. These are available to view as individual videos – see below for details.

The documentary also examines the process of judging itself, with Laura assembling an alternative Stirling Prize judging panel. Her reasons for doing this were set out in our current issue which profiles the Stirling shortlist. ‘We had lots of discussions of what makes an award-winning project, and visiting the buildings really changed our perception of that,’ she says in the film.

The alternative jury – composed of architect and broadcaster Piers Taylor, participation specialist Daisy Froud and developer Martyn Evans – visited every shortlisted project to answer the question: would one group of people choose the same winner as another? The film culminates in the panel revealing its winner, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow night who will win the real prize.