You got it all wrong: Stirling Prize 2011

“I fear I am not in my perfect mind.”
William Shakespeare, King Lear, 4.7.63


Last year I have praised Zaha Hadid with her first Stirling Prize in my emotional essay “Zaha”. Her winning project of MAXXI Museum in Rome was a great example of a unique and intellectual architecture. She deserved the Prize big time, even though the decision was a bit political. It became obvious as 2 weeks later RIBA’s Gold Medal was awarded to David Chipperfield who was Zaha’s main contender for the Stirling.

Regardless of those political games (I wrote about it extensively here) I would like to emphasize Zaha’s win in 2010 was beyond any doubts. She was simply the best.


In my view, RIBA Stirling Prize Shortlist of 2011 was way more impressive than last year. In alphabetical order:

  • An Gaelaras (Irish Cultural Centre), by O’Donnell and Tuomey  [ Photos + Description  >> ]
  • Evelyn Grace Academy (Educational), by Zaha Hadid Architects  [ Photos + Description  >> ]
  • Folkwang Museum (Extension) by David Chipperfield Architects  [ Photos + Description  >> ]
  • London 2012 Velodrome (A Sport Venue) by Hopkins Architects   [ Photos + Description  >> ]
  • Royal Shakespeare Theater (New Stage), Bennetts Associates Architects.[ Photos + Description  >> ]
  • The Angel Building (Commercial Complex) by AHMM   [ Photos + Description  >> ]


Frankly I thought that Hadid and Chipperfield were included as a gesture of a formal respect to the great masters. To me their works of this year were weak. If you can use word weak for projects of these starchitects… But everything is relative. So when I say weak I mean it was weak in comparison with the other contestants. In addition to that I kept in mind a political balance that architectural bureaucrats like to maintain. And since Zaha and Chipperfield got already awarded last year their chances in 2011 would be really close to zero.

Giving all that, when I saw the news that Zaha has won the Stirling Prize again I was utterly surprised. Apparently I wasn’t alone. The controversial comments from very prominent figures have been published all over the web immediately upon the news release of Zaha’s second in a row Stirling Prize win.


Architect’s Journal teaser said:

“The decision to give this year’s Stirling Prize to Zaha Hadid’s Evelyn Grace Academy is met by shock, surprise and even anger…”

Wow! Polite Brits have thrown away their bloody political correctness and have spoken openly about their disappointment with the choice of the winner. Architects and officials have blasted the project from any possible angle. I’m not going to post those combative quotes to impress you. You can read it in full from the source here >>

Yet again you can find a lot of politics in critics’ reaction. To me this is very simple: Zaha’s project was not the best in terms of the architectural integrity. Yes, this is another iconic building with the super-budget. Yes, this is another style/ego-driven project. And yes this is all very impressive. But architecture is not only about impressions, iconic look and egotistical ambitions.


Architecture is also about historic romanticism and delicate design like in the Royal Shakespeare Theater.

Architecture is also about sophisticated simplicity and mystique atmosphere as in An Gaelaras.

Architecture is also about modern technical solutions & wise choice of materials like in London Velodrome.

Architecture is also about smart and daring architectonic reinvention like in The Angel Building.


Architecture is not about fancy name and powerful PR.

Sorry Zaha. Sorry David. But your less famous colleagues were just better this year.


P.S. If I would be a judge I’d pick a Royal Shakespeare Theater. It’s probably the most complex and the least pretentious project out of all 6 contenders. And the most romantic one. But hey, who cares about the romanticism and professionalism in today’s world of political games? Tell me I am wrong!


Royal Shakespeare Theater | Bennetts Associates Architects


2 Responses to “You got it all wrong: Stirling Prize 2011”
  1. Julie says:

    RST would be my vote – I care!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: