Stirling Prize: 1960s concrete estate up for award

The shortlisted buildings

The renovation of a 1960s concrete housing block in Sheffield, once notorious for crime, drugs and deprivation, is among six architecture projects vying for the Stirling Prize.

Park Hill is joined on the shortlist by a chapel for a college and religious order in Oxfordshire and a holiday home in a 12th Century Warwickshire castle.

The award is the Royal Institute of British Architects' highest accolade.

Riba says the finalists proves "creative vision improves our lives".

The briefest glance at this year's Stirling Prize shortlist tells you modernism is still the name of the architectural awards game. Clean lines, geometric shapes and abstracted details appeal to judges brought up on a strict diet of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.

Nothing wrong with that per se: there is beauty in architectural simplicity - as demonstrated by the ancient Greeks, Palladio and more recently by the likes of Oscar Niemeyer and Sir David Chipperfield.

But, as we know, variety is the spice of life. Which makes this list's lack of anything outré a tad dull. Where are the New Romantics, the neo-Goths or assimilators of non-western aesthetics into the contemporary architecture of multi-cultural Britain?

That said, all six buildings are welcome additions to the UK's landscape, a natural canvas that is too often blighted by truly awful buildings that are hopeless in every sense.

We know the winner will come from the modernist school, but not which of the six. I think it should go to the building that most successfully obeys the rule Louis Sullivan - a founding father of modernist architecture - established in his essay The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered (1896), in which he famously wrote: "Form ever follows function."

Housing features prominently on this year's list, with two of the contenders offering a different approach to new-build development.

"The Riba Stirling Prize is awarded to the building that has made the biggest contribution to the evolution of architecture, and nowhere is the need for fresh-thinking needed more than in housing," Riba president Angela Brady said.

"The UK is blighted with unimaginative, poor quality houses that people don't want to live in but have little other choice, so I am delighted to see two amazing and highly original housing projects on this year's shortlist.

"They shine a light on what the future of UK housing can be," she added.

Five of the six architects feature for the first time, beating off competition from previous winners Sir David Chipperfield and Dame Zaha Hadid.

It is also the first time in the prize's 18-year history that as many as half of the shortlisted firms have women at the helm.

The prize is given to Riba-chartered architects and international fellows of the institute for their work on a building in the UK. Buildings by Riba-chartered architects in the EU are also eligible.

The six shortlisted buildings vary in size and purpose, but all will be judged by the same criteria: Their design excellence and their significance to the evolution of architecture and the built environment. They are:

Park Hill Phase 1, Sheffield
Park Hill

Part of one of the UK's most iconic and infamous housing estates and famous for walkways known as "streets in the sky", Park Hill was built in 1961 and was one of the first Brutalist buildings in the UK. Inspired by Le Corbusier's Unite D'habitation, a famous block of flats in Marseille, France, the building divided opinion between some who loved it and many who loathed it. By the 1980s Park Hill had become dilapidated and was no longer a popular place to live. Poor noise insulation, badly lit walkways and plenty of passages and alleys made perfect getaways for muggers.

Park Hill Phase 1 in Sheffield is vying for the prestigious Stirling Prize

Architects Hawkins Brown and Studio Egret West have kept the structure of the building in place but changed key features, such as interior layout, windows and security. The "streets in the sky" remain, but the external brickwork has been replaced with bright coloured aluminium. A new window in each flat that faces the street has been described as an improvement to the design by the original architect. Judges said the reinvented building "stands as a beacon for imaginative regeneration, quality mass housing and the bold reuse of a listed building".

Park Hill, beauty or beast? Listen to Angela Brady, president of Riba, and Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, debate.

University of Limerick Medical School

Established in 1972 and given formal recognition in 1989, University of Limerick was the first new university to be created since Irish Independence in 1922. The medical school is a collection of buildings, which were required to complement each other forming a public square on the campus located along the River Shannon. Designed by Ireland-based firm Grafton Architects, the project was completed on a "rock bottom budget".

It includes the medical faculty, two accommodation blocks and a bus shelter, designed to represent a gateway to the monolithic medical school, which is a three-storey cliff-like building constructed using local blue limestone. Lots of natural light and ventilation flood the internal space and judges said the project "feels like it punches well above its weight". "It transforms simple teaching and study spaces into rich, theatrical spaces, with a generosity that verges on the heroic."

Newhall Be, Harlow
Newhall Be, Harlow by Alison Brooks Architects

Riba Stirling Prize

  • Awarded by Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Architects must be Riba members to be in the running, and the building anywhere in the EU
  • Working in partnership with Riba, BBC News will host an online vote and a series of features on the shortlisted buildings, in September
  • Past winners include Lord's Media Centre at the eponymous cricket ground, Terminal 4 at Madrid's Barajas Airport and Rotherham's Magma Centre

Located in Harlow, Essex, Newhall Be housing development is a reconfiguration of the traditional terraced house. A mix of apartments, villas, courtyard and terraced houses, architect Alison Brooks' design of 84 dwellings takes inspiration from the traditional Essex barns and the sculptures of Romanian born artist, Brancusi.

Conventional gardens have been replaced by balconies, patios and roof decks, acting as extensions to the living space while capturing sunlight at various times of the day. The angled buildings also feature a high, cathedral-style roof, which can be converted into another bedroom, and have been designed to avoid overlooking by neighbours. Judges said the scheme "raises the bar for suburban developments" adding that if used elsewhere, it could have a "significant impact" on development in the UK. "In the context of much of the UK's new house building it is truly exceptional." Brooks won the Stirling Prize in 2008 for her part in the Accordia development in Cambridge.

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Oxfordshire
Bishop Edward Kind Chapel, Oxfordshire

Serving two groups - Ripon theological college community and a small religious order, the Sisters of Begbroke - the Grade II listed Bishop Edward King Chapel in Cuddleston was praised by judges for being an "exquisite piece of design and craftsmanship". The brief for Niall McLaughlin Architects was to design an uplifting spiritual space of great potency within an extremely small area.

Mr McLaughlin described the starting point of the project as the word, nave, which describes the central space of a church but also shares the same origin as navis, a ship. "From these words, two architectural images emerged. The first is the hollow in the ground as the meeting place of the community, the still centre. The second is the delicate ship-like timber structure that floats above in the tree canopy, the gathering place for light and sound." Above a fine stone or ashlar base, the building has been constructed using mainly cream limestone, which has been hand broken and laid criss-cross with the unfinished, raw ends exposed to produce a rich texture. The delicate structure is made from blonde wood while windows allow light to flood the chapel and its ambulatory with even, natural light.

Giants Causeway Visitor Centre, County Antrim
Giants Causeway Visitor Centre

Described by judges as a "highly imaginative and sculptural piece of land art," visitors to the centre are given a physical and interactive experience, just like the Giants Causeway it overlooks. Dublin-based Heneghan Peng were selected from 800 entries to design the centre, which was to be both sympathetic to its rugged coastal surroundings including a Unesco World Heritage Site and and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Composed from two folds marked into the ground, rising up to 6m in height, one rises up to accommodate the building while the second folds down to shield a car park from view.

Windows between columns made from locally quarried, dark coloured volcanic rock - the same material as the causeway - allow visitors to be aware of the outside despite the building being partially underground. "This one pulls off that difficult trick of being a destination in its own right without upstaging the principal event - the causeway which is set a kilometre apart and invisible from it," commented judges.

Astley Castle, Warwickshire

Dating back to the 12th Century, Astley Castle became a Grade II listed building in 1951. It was converted into a hotel in 1955 but a fire in 1978 left as a ruin. A full restoration of the building was not possible, so the task for Architects Witherford Watson Man was to install a new house within the stabilised ruins. With the aim of adding to the many historical layers of the building, courts and outdoor rooms are formed by both old and new walls, while contemporary materials have been colour matched to the original palette.

The layout of the house, which is designed to accommodate up to eight people, is inverted with bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor and the living quarters on the first floor. With its deep-set windows and multiple vistas, it is a solid and practical building. Judges described the house as "a hybrid, grafted thing, whose spaces are made of elements varying between one and 800 years old, acting together".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 254.


    agree that park hill buildings per se were not the sole cause of the problems, & context differs half a century on.

    The crayon-colour cladding are superficial patches that will stain & discolour in time, resembling infantile play-block clumps. The maze of walkways & need for high security remains.

    The prize nomination confirms it as mutual back-patting for architectural luvvies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    I've done what Owlsoflaughter at post 115 suggests and balloted the good burghers of Sheffield, or at least a sample of them. And 100% are in favour of retaining the Park Hill flats with their new brightly-coloured aluminium panels.
    Good for him. I think it's great.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    249. antirrhinum choke

    Many of Park Hill's problems do not originate solely from the building, but indeed at the time it was built the building also did little to resolve the problems.

    Many buildings of the same substance if different contexts haven't attracted the issues you identify, and this building is now in a completely different context and isn't necessarily "fundamentally flawed".

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Royal Institute of British Architects' members wouldn't be seen dead in a dive like that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    "will you do the same again?" is an often used review question.

    without doubt post war & 60s architectural bunk such as park hill & inner city council estates will never be repeated, with a catalogue of errors relating to ideology, social cohesion, crime, maintenance, sustainability, environment & even aesthetics.

    stop tweaking & throwing good money on designs that are fundamentally flawed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.


    "...of course the irony..."

    tell that to decades of park hill residents who endured crime, insecurity, dilapidation, filth, couldn't be re-housed, next to boarded up empty dereliction etc.

    enjoy your walks on "streets in the sky".

    Park hill is an ugly duckling made from turd.

    Irony indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Odd how when human beings are included in the photographs of these dull landscapes of concrete, the buildings look a whole lot uglier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    People appear to have issue with how Park Hill looks from the outside.. of course the irony is those who live inside experience the architecture and don't just look at the building.

    On the contrary developer housing may sometimes "look" okay from the outside but it is almost always terrible inside... they are the true "polished turds"!

    Park Hill may be an Ugly Duckling, but a turd it is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Interesting that those structures designed for human habitation are extremely unattractive, whereas the others are actually quite appealing. I suggest this is because the dreadful ones are many smaller units bundled into one. Architects note. If you want to use concrete, use it for a large, single-unit building only. Then you have a better chance of coming up with something people like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    It was repulsive when it was built and it still looks repulsive now. Yet another waste of time and money!

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    It is a shame that this nonsense is the only story you can actually make a comment on via BBC NI.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Vboulderer - Good idea Steve, blow up anyone who has a differing opinion? Freedom of choice and demoracy in action!?!?

    There was no freedom of choice or democratic vote for the council tax payers of Sheffield. We have had to fork out over £30m for the most expensive council flats in the world because an unelected body decided to list.

    More expense = less social housing. Priorities wrong maybe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Why would anyone build in grey, a depressing colour even on bright, sunny days? I'd give the prize for the chapel, elegant and uplifting, runner-up would be the house in the ruins. The other contenders are definitely boring. As for Park Hill, they did their best to tart it up, I suppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Surprised that the film about Park Hill didn't include the incredible view over Sheffield city centre that most of that area of the city enjoys..
    you walk up the road and you're higher than the rooftop quite quickly

    Its 'iconicness' is down to the intention behind the design.. unfortunately social housing is not seen as important anymore

    You need to see it in context

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    As far as the RIBA panel goes - probably been said before - but one wonders how many of the panel would choose to live in somewhere like Park Hill as an e.g.?
    Silly me - mindset is - it's architecturally interesting/stimulating - but god forbid I would have to actually live with it!/in it! I'll go back to my Cotswold cottage and muse on my next pronouncement!

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    I look at all of the dismal buildings entered for this prize, and the buildings being spewed out DAILY on our high streets, and think 'I could easily do that.'

    Why do Architects have 12 years training to do boxes which clearly even a child could easily do?

    You can't polish a turd but you can roll out a tired cliche when nothing else springs to mind. And this is exactly what they do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    I studied Architecture but sadly gave up because of the pitiful, pathetic, disgusting architects who are tearing the heart out of this beautiful, historic land.

    All Architects want is to butter each other up and laugh at the public, and I know for a fact they do it alongside the bankers and the bonuses.

    I'd like to see them try and live like the 99% for once actually.

  • Comment number 237.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    they are ugly - modern, no character - no soul

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    I look out and see a city with culture, a city of diversity. i see modern buildings, Victorian buildings, buildings with character, buildings that are bland. why would anyone living in a city like this want to take away its past to replace it with a modern western steel clad developer driven shiny totems.

    wear you history on your sleeve and be proud of your past and celebrate, you are unique


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