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 134.

    @126. Zakmann

    A completely agree! Developers skimp on everything, especially sound proofing as in, what sound proofing! As for the awful joke oak housing estates they build, in the country, destroying the countryside people apparently want to live in. It's all incredibly depressing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    123. I see. When an architect goes to a developer and says "Build this" and the engineer says "Will it work?" The architects says, "Aye, sure its common sense". That's how it happens that flat roofs are allowed to be used.
    Because millions of buildings in the world have them because its common sense that they won't work.
    The number of units on the site, will not be at the architects discretion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I'd say the Sheffield block was nominated to bring more interest in people actually paying to live there..?
    They've spent a fortune trying to clear it up and now no one wants to pay 90k for a box in a dive?
    I bet it wins -these are rigged you's all about marketing..

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Concrete isn't always awful, I much prefer the old Birmingham library as at least it was interesting but the powers that be have decided we should have yet another generic glass block instead. It's so boring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    2, 4, 5 and 6 all look gorgeous,

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Less than 5% of buildings are architect designed, so to blame architects for the majority of poor buildings is a mistake.

    The real problem is developer led housing, architects are shunned in favour of cheap, repetitive and unsustainable designs that do little to reflect or interpret their environment.

    Well done to Newhall for resisting the norm and developer's urges to waste roof space.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Park Hill used to be a really striking building, especially given its location. Now it looks absolutely tacky, and a terrible eyesore, with awful multicoloured plastic panels stuck all over what was once a plain, monumental design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Britain achieved a mass destruction of its traditional buildings in the 50s and 60s. We were encouraged to appreciate ugliness. Many beautiful railway stations were razed- look at Glasgow St. Enoch- well, in old photos.
    Our usual bad management and profiteering.
    Some town centres have no atmosphere or history- another reason for their decline- a lot of Europe has done better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    British domestic architecture is some of the worst in the West.

    People are forced into semi detached and terrace style housing it is divided into flats & general housing stock is small, lacks sound proofing & natural light, lacks storage & is often damp and poorly ventilated. To say houses in this country are too small is an understatement.

    The only people who profit here are developers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    @115 that's only the people who don't understand what Park Hill represents.
    People do seem to forget that before Park Hill became what it was in the 80's it was a beacon of what can be done. It showed the country that flats do not have to be horrible pokey little affairs. I suggest these people who have a problem with Park Hill actually go look at it and not judge from afar and on past reputation

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Park Hill (as well as Hyde Park) did have a reputation in the 60's and 70's. It was the City Council that had the vision to sort things out. Central Government did nothing whatsoever to help. I grew up in close proximity and am not sure what is meant by 'deprivation'. Many people despite being 'poor' led decent fulfilling lives. Others lived in their own self inflicted deprivation - their choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    102. delanotte
    I assume, given your evident expertise

    I don't need expertise, it's common sense. I also don't need expertise to know that cramming people into boxes with a density of 56 units per acre will lead to problems once the novelty wears off. God help them if the binmen don't turn up one week in summer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Great news about Park Hill and a good day for brutalist iconic architecture. It's a pity that this attitude to regenerating so called 'ugly' buildings was not enforced upon Robin Hood Gardens in East London...another example of a classic to be demolished. 20 years ago, the consensus was to pull down St Pancras Hotel due to it being ugly...see how a bit of time and consideration can change things!

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @118. Answer Incorrect. The correct answer was:

    Developers who are too cheap to pay Architects' fees! RIBA members probably only design 1 in 100 buildings unfortunately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Sorry. I'm out.
    You guys are all right. We should all live in brick boxes. Preferably which are, or look a bit Georgian. And then, the more money you have, the bigger it can be! Brilliant.
    Paint it eau de nil (the new magnolia) inside, nice white skirtings and maybe some reclaimed oak doors or something? Imaginative.
    You are clearly a design genius.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Another BBC article today raises the question "10 ways the UK is ill-prepared for a heatwave" which include at numbers 1 and 2, no cross ventilation and no air conditioning.
    Q. Who designs these overheated and under sound-insulated, smaller than dog boxes that people are forced to live in?
    A. Riba's members.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    I like Alison Brooks' housing development the most. Stylish and functional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    @91 that was Hyde Park not Park Hill!

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    If you balloted the people of Sheffield regarding Park Hill flats, the overwelming majority would vote to pull it down.

    It always has been and always will be an ugly great eye sore.

    Gotta love Architects and town planners...ignore what the people want....lets continue with our self gratification.


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