July 21, 2011 2:28 am

Shortlist for Stirling prize announced

A Brixton school designed by Zaha Hadid, a German museum, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford and the Olympic velodrome all appear on the shortlist for British architecture’s most prestigious award.

The Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize usually throws up a few surprises but this year’s list, published on Thursday, looks meticulously calculated to cover all bases.

Baghdad-born, London-based Zaha Hadid, the world’s best-known female architect, designed the extraordinary Evelyn Grace Academy in a run-down Brixton street – beside a rubbish depot. With a running track slicing through its heart, this is the sculptural architecture of international culture applied to the everyday. A number of the pupils have now apparently set their sights on becoming architects.

Sir David Chipperfield’s Folkwang Museum in Essen is a fine, responsive piece of work but not in the same league of complexity and brilliance as his Neues Museum in Berlin, which should have won last year (it was beaten by Zaha’s MAXXI Museum in Rome).

The Angel Building by AHMM is a good, solid commercial building re-using an existing frame – pointing the way to a future surely to be determined as much by retro-fit as new-build. Bennetts Associates’ Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is a highly competent rebuilding and restoration of the original 1930s building though it lacks a little soul.

The outsider is surely O’Donnell + Tuomey’s AnGaelaras centre in Derry. This deceptively complex, tough but urbane building is a product of the Anglo-Irish agreement, a centre for Irish language and culture situated on a sensitive and historic site in the centre of Derry and aimed at a Northern-Irish community who had felt historically disenfranchised.

The favourite though must surely be a very different building – the 2012 Olympic velodrome at Stratford by Hopkins Architects. The first Olympic venue to be finished is as fine an advert for the games as a disappointed, cash-strapped and largely ticketless London population could have.

Elegant, simple, sustainable and naturally-lit, the timber-clad velodrome contains a space of real architectural and sporting drama. Its gently curving roof has been compared to a Pringle and this is about as crisp as contemporary architecture gets.

There are some reflections on contemporary culture and climate in the choices. The inclusion of a school is a pointed reminder of an ambitious but abandoned school building programme while the absence of any housing points to a wider malaise – a dearth of housebuilding which shows no sign of improvement. No towers or skyscrapers either, despite British architects building tall around the world. Culture it seems, still beats commerce.

The £20,000 ($32,000) prize will be presented at a ceremony on October 1 at the Magna Science Centre in Rotherham, a building which itself won the prize for its architects Wilkinson Eyre in 2001.

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