The RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling Prize, named after the renowned architect James Stirling, was introduced in 1996 and is presented to “the architects of the UK building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year.” It is the architectural equivalent of the Booker Prize for literature and Turner Prize for visual arts, but currently carries no prize money.
With the announcement last month of Norman Foster’s Bloomberg’s European Headquarters as the winner of the 2018 Stirling Prize came the inevitable grumpy commentary from certain quarters the architectural fraternity; much of it predictably tinged with green due to the extravagant brief and generous budget – and therefore high fees.
Just to be clear, Stirling is not a one-off prize; rather it is the culmination of a nine month journey which begins in January each year and culminates in this announcement in October. At the same ceremony, awards such as the Stephen Lawrence Prize and House of the Year are also revealed.
The process is this: final calls for entry are made in February by RIBA for any project completed within the past three years. This is not necessarily a new ‘building’ as conversions and bridges have gone all the way to be Stirling winners before. In normal circumstances it is the architectural firm who submits the project, but occasionally the client might nominate – which always sends its own message. The nominations are regionalised fairly logically into 12 ‘English Regional and National Offices’ and a fresh regional jury of four is put together each year by the respective RIBA Regional Representative. A Chair of the jury is nominated, who must be an architect without a project submitted for that particular region, but other members of the panel may include a landscape architect, an urban designer, a conservation advisor and, always, a local architect and a lay assessor. This person is sometimes from the construction industry, but never an architect.
Entries are first assessed by drawings, photographs and a written description. The judging criteria for the RIBA Awards is wide-ranging and leads to a refreshingly broad church of projects: capacity to stimulate, engage or delight its occupants, visitors and passers-by; architectural and conceptual ambition; environmental and economic sustainability; generous contribution to the public realm or environment; extent of innovation, invention or originality; use of materials and the rigour with which it is detailed; ability to inspire and endure as an exemplary work of architecture.
Occasionally, a panel member may know of the building and can give a first hand opinion, but a shortlist is eventually drawn up for the jury visit. There is no prescribed number of projects on the shortlist, but normally this ranges from between ten to fifteen depending on the quality of the year’s submissions.