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Confusion greets the Stirling

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November 16 2005

When the Scottish Parliament picked up the Stirling Prize many believed that this was really an opportunity to, in the words of Lord Fraser, ‘draw a line’ under the affair. Reactions to the prize however have been passionate and have said more about the individuals who hold them than the Holyrood building. The Award provoked debate about issues such as the status of the architectural profession, the relationship between the public and its democratic bodies and the public’s attitude towards architecture.

Those that dislike the building persisted in drawing parallels between Holyrood and Seventies concrete blocks. Supporters were unable to make convincing critiques of the building and argued instead that the long view needs to be taken. Future generations will recognise and embrace a building which, by implication, is ahead of its time. “The Scottish Parliament will, I am sure,” said Piers Gough, one of the judges, “be seen as one of the great, if not the greatest, Stirling Prize winners.”

The Scotsman was unenthusiastic about the win but The Herald was enthusiastic, reporting that the building was popular with both the public and the people who work in it. These responses reflect the ongoing attitudes of the Scottish papers to the project, but hardly justified the claim made by one blogger that the Stirling win marked a victory in the battle against the Murdoch press and anti-devolutionary forces.

Peter Wilson described the result as ‘predictable’ and said it demonstrated that the architectural profession was out of touch with the public. However, much of the media coverage exposed the lack of conviction in the decision rather than accusations of a fix. “We think it’s was the best on the shortlist. But it should not have won,” said Building Design, oxymornoically.

There was a sense among some architects in Scotland that the RIBA gave this award grudgingly and that media champions of the parliament cooled towards the project following the win. As Gordon Murray said in a letter to BD, “in the ten years of the Stirling Prize I do not recall any of the other 59 nominees being audited or scrutinised for profligacy or contractual rectitude”. BD’s coverage was dominated by a report that Dr John Gibbons had been employed by the parliament to lobby for competition wins. The builidng’s victory in the Andrew Doolan Prize was cited as evidence of his success. “The Scottish Parliament is, after all, a little hard to digest,” said Isabel Allen, the editor of the AJ and one of the panel judges.

A before-and-after reading of Deyan Sudjic’s Observer reports made interesting reading. (Sudjic presumably peeved at having been overlooked for a role in the Stirling TV show, described Kevin McCloud, the Stirling compere, as “sockless and ever so slightly condescending”). On 9 October Sudjic wrote that the Scottish Parliament would be a ‘worthwhile’ winner but questioned whether the judges had “the stomach to risk the lurid headlines that giving the prize to a building costing four times its original budget would inevitably attract.” A week later, when the judges had proved they did have the stomach to vote for the parliament, Sudjic described the parliament as ‘willful’ and ‘highly emotional’.

In the run up to the prize-giving RIBA workers made it clear that Holyrood was
unlikely to win and on the night a significant clique associated with the RIBA in London were reported to be fuming that Hadid had not picked up the gong. Gough also admitted on the night that the judging panel had not reached a consensus on the issue and that there were heated exchanges among panel members before the votes were cast.

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