Olympic Velodrome leads race for gold medal in architecture

Apart from the Velodrome and a cultural centre in Derry, none of the shortlisted buildings set the heart, and mind, racing

Jay Merrick,Architecture Correspondent
Thursday 21 July 2011 00:00 BST

British architecture's most prestigious award, the Stirling Prize, is almost certain to go to the super-svelte Olympic Velodrome, designed by Hopkins Architects. The shortlist, announced today, contains buildings by two of world architecture's biggest names, David Chipperfield and Zaha Hadid. But how can they compete with Mike Taylor, the bike-mad Hopkins director who led the design of the velodrome?

The other projects shortlisted by the Royal Institute of British Architects are Hadid's Evelyn Grace Academy in London; Chipperfield's Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany; the An Gaeláras cultural centre in Derry, by O'Donnell and Tuomey; the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre by Rab Bennetts; and the Angel office building, London, by AHMM.

Apart from the Velodrome and An Gaeláras, none of the shortlisted buildings quite set the heart, and mind, racing. Hadid's academy has zingy spaces, but Schmidt Hammer Lassen must have expected their equally dramatic Westminster College to make the shortlist. And it's surprising that the only recently completed school offering an original approach to materials and spaces, Sarah Wigglesworth's Sandal Magna Primary School in Wakefield, isn't in the final mix.

AHMM's retrofit of the 30-year-old Angel building in Islington is slick and energy efficient. But if giving old buildings new life is considered prizeworthy, has there been a more astonishing example than John McAslan's gruelling and hugely complex resurrection of Port-au-Prince's 19th-century Iron Market, a vast wreck of ironwork after the 2010 earthquake?

Rab Bennetts' RSC theatre is a conundrum: the auditorium, thrust stage, and back-of-house are outstanding. But the new tower, proclaimed as the biggest chunk of modern structural brickwork in Britain, has fussily glazed "zips" up its four corners, which kills any sense of weighty brickness. But Bennetts has skilfully solved the RSC's biggest problems, and that may be reason enough to get him the Stirling nod. Chipperfield's Folkwang Museum also looms: the architect has, as usual, delivered a beautifully composed cultural building.

It's a great relief the judges ignored the William Hill-tipped Balancing Barn, a metal-sheathed holiday home jutting over a Suffolk slope, designed by the trendy Dutch practice MVRDV. Yet there was no place for serious environmental architecture, in the form of Pat Borer and David Lea's universally praised Wise Building at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

Mike Taylor won't be fretting. As he zips from his Marylebone office on his hand-made Alfredo Gios bike, he's going to find it hard not to muse about the Stirling Prize, which is announced in October.

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