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Stirling Prize, 2012, Manchester: Observed

Phil Griffin snakes round the city all 'smart and stylish'

Published on October 15th 2012.


Stirling Prize, 2012, Manchester: Observed

SATURDAY: to Manchester Central for Stirling Prize Dinner 2012, the seventeenth time the Royal Institute of British Architects has gathered the family around the table to give out the top prize. The Preamble is in Manchester Town Hall where the first of the evening’s words are spoken, and drink taken.

There will be (a lot) more. 

Did it dawn on any of the visiting architects and construction professionals gathered in Manchester for their celebrations, that the empty white rooms they so smartly and stylishly brought a little heat and light to, are, in fact, closed and lost to their original purpose? 

Without wishing to tinker with the grand design, if Norman Foster (of Levenshulme) had predeceased James Stirling (of Glasgow and Liverpool), we might have been standing in the Great Hall in the name of Lord Foster. Which would have made the setting even more apt because, as Sir Richard Leese pointed out in his words of welcome, young Norman’s first job was in the Town Hall Treasurer’s Office, where, presumably, he took early lessons in how to become non-dom with Swiss residency. 

Beer and wine and the first large gulp of Angela Brady, RIBA President, consumed, the architects snake down Mount Street to the big black space that has been prepared for them.

We’re on table 50, the last / first table in the house, furthest from the stage, closest to the door, courtesy of our hosts, the Coop Group, who may, or may not have their new Miller Street Headquarters building - 1 Angel Square - in contention this time next year.

1 Angel Square nears completion1 Angel Square nears completion

One of my fellow diners tells me she’s just dropped her number two daughter at the Cheryl Cole gig across town. The girl tipped up later in the night, in lime-green tutu and knee high Converse. They should have created a new award category for her on the spot. 

Our dress code is ‘smart stylish’. This is evidently lost on our presenter. He is Mark Lawson, BBC culture and arts odd-job man, the design-and-build contractor of choice when Channel 4’s Kevin McCloud has been value-engineered out of the project.

I won’t argue with this year’s PFI solution. McCloud has always seemed to me self-referential, not to say an un-necessary and expensive extension to an already dangerously overblown structure. Lawson is stolid articulate stuff, if a little bulky on the site. 

Mark makes a joke that refers to the fact that this year’s Chairman of Judges, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, couldn’t be at the awards due to illness. That afternoon he’d chaired the deliberations via Skype, which, according to one of the judges, was okay, but for occasional pixilation.

Lawson thanks her at the end of the awards announcements and invites her and fellow judges to “go off and get thoroughly pixilated”. I laughed. He needs more practice. As I slunk out for a fag, Lawson slid off into the night. He’d put on his topcoat, an anorak roughly three inches shorter than his suit jacket. Not a ‘smart stylish’ look. 

“And the winner of the seventeenth RIBA Stirling prize for architecture 2012 is….” Does this prolixity come from the unnatural verbal extension of the dramatic moment, a la Strictly Come Dancing, or does Angela Brady just like the sound of her own voice? “…..Stanton Williams for the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge.” 

This is a good result, one that pleases the room - the building's shown on the main picture at the top of this page. The building is long, low, sleek, neat, linear, concrete and glass. It is, I’m certain, very fine – as an expensive building with a wealthy patron for a world University should be. 

Ham hock, duck leg, thyme brulee and Sicilian red and white to the good, the architectural snake moves on. Most pass through St Peter’s Square, skirting a rare sight these days - a building site. One on which the lift core has just shot up. And up. 

It’s for the new building on the old Elizabeth House/Dutch Pancake House site, opposite Central Library. 

Glenn Howells Architects new office climbs above St Peter's SquareGlenn Howells Architects new office climbs above St Peter's Square

The scheme is at least four stories too tall on the site and the lift core alone makes the neighbours cower. On to Cube Gallery, Portland Street. The acronym set out, in 1998, to stand for ‘Centre for Understanding the Built Environment’. Then ‘Understanding’ became ‘Urban’ (less didactic). 

Now it’s a Salford University-owned venue for hire, with nothing on the walls, borrowed furniture, and Dave Haslam on the decks to encourage the architectural snake to wriggle away the rest of the night. 

Did it dawn on any of the visiting architects and construction professionals gathered in Manchester for their celebrations, that the empty white rooms they so smartly and stylishly brought a little heat and light to, are, in fact, closed and lost to their original purpose? 

Probably not.

Stirling 2012’s been and gone. Consensus declared it a good year. I’m not so sure. The best eligible building I have seen didn’t make the short list. That is Brockholes Visitors Centre by architect Adam Khan, in a country park just off the M6 near Preston. I’m told the judges didn’t think it especially ‘well detailed’. 

Brockholes Visitors CentreBrockholes Visitors Centre

Weirdly, the last word in the current edition of Architects’ Journal that covers the awards goes to Ian Martin. He’s a Lancaster-based journalist who’s written for the architectural press for years. More recently, he’s the man who put the fuck in Malcolm Tucker. 

He is the additional dialogue writer and swearing consultant to The Thick Of It. He writes a fictive diary for AJ. 

His entry for Tuesday last week: “I’m designing a big scallopy thing in Singapore, full of trees. It has an immensely collaborative feel, various radical and technical examinations, experimental aspects and exciting lines of enquiry, converging in a coveted award.” 

President Elect of the RIBA is Manchester Architect Stephen Hodder. He will preside over next year’s Stirling Prize dinner, somewhere in London. I’m guessing the aftershow will not be in a former architecture gallery that he designed, and I’m betting that his latest completed building, the 33 story Student Castle on New Wakefield Street will not make the shortlist. 

Sorry Stephen.   

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousOctober 15th 2012.

Got to agree with Phil about One St Peter's Square. It's already looking way, way too tall for THAT PARTICULAR site.
Oh dear, it's going to "dominate & overpower" the Midland and all its neighbours, isn't it?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 16th 2012.

Indeed. I called it months ago on the skyscrapercity forum. No one really listened, the planning dep. clearly did not either. 60 metres is too high for the site.

Ghostly TomOctober 15th 2012.

I'm surprised at how big it's got already but am reserving judgement until its finished. The pictures of the finished building give the impression that's its only 6 storeys tall when in fact it's 14. Hopefully the colour and the glass with give it a lightness. Buildings of a similar height along King Street (Ship Canal House, Lutyens' Midland Bank) manage to carry their height well in a more confined space. Plus the curve of Oxford Street at the last moment means that the view of Central Library won't be spoilt and the square will be flooded with light from the south. The Town Hall Extension is of a similar height to the new building and no one seems to be complaining about that.

Don AllwrightOctober 16th 2012.

Wait till it's built, it will be fine!
By the way I notice you are still printing 'anonymous posts'; Why?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan Schofield - editorOctober 16th 2012.

Because Don, that's our policy. It gives greater freedom but means we do have to monitor it, constantly vigilant for idiots.

the Whalley RangerOctober 17th 2012.

what is pic no 1? credit, please...thanks

BobNovember 1st 2012.

worthy winner!

Duke FameNovember 9th 2012.

How does Richard Leech get invited to all these posh do's

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan Schofield - editorNovember 9th 2012.

Who's that?

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