Review: Stirling Prize Shortlist exhibition 2018, at RIBA North

2018’s Stirling Prize Winner is Bloomberg’s European Headquarters. The annual award is an unlimited, uncategorized prize given to the best building completed in the year of competition. The fact any size, style or use of building is accepted means that literally anything could win, making it a monumental achievement for any architect or firm.
Bloomberg’s European Headquarters is the largest stone built building in London since St Paul’s Cathedral.

The gigantic office, retail, and leisure space is said to have rethought the way city office space is contrived, but to be quite honest, the actual building, beyond its immediate scale and ambition isn’t why I’m writing this, or even particularly interesting.

What is, is the exhibition of the shortlist you can find at RIBA North until February.
Documentation and stories behind the six shortlisted buildings, including work by the architects behind them pulls together to reveal a story of process, trials, errors and decision making. Not just what will look best, but what will function within its purpose, and when is form more important than function.

Fundamentally important questions for any creative person, but for architects that is their entire career, not just the ability to design, but to design with purpose.
The Stirling Prize shortlist is on show at RIBA North for the first time this year, adding to the already huge programme shown at the national gallery for architecture in just eight months.

The shortlist is made up of Bloomberg, Bushey Cemetery, Chadwick Hall, New Tate St Ives, Storey’s Field Centre and Eddington Nursery, and The Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre.
Bloomberg, and Chadwick Hall both fall a bit short, not in terms of outcome – they’re beautiful buildings – but they had less to work with from their clients, and the end product is far less enriching that the other four.

The Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre had the added pressure of creating a building peaceful enough to learn, in a setting so beautifully distracting that it had to work both with and against it. The results are an astonishingly delicate space built for the purposes of knowledge. Just the images in the exhibition, and the story, gave me shivers of excitement.
Next up came Storey’s Field Centre, which serves as a children’s nursery. The overwhelming emotion is a grand joy, a huge sense of happiness, calm and wellbeing in a building that is as useful outside as it is inside.

But the race for the best was between New Tate St Ives and Bushey Cemetery. Tate St Ives extended and rethought the gallery, and by extending without overtaking have doubled the available gallery space, without detracting from any of the existing post-modern structure.

Bushey Cemetery though, is no frills, materials based architecture at its best, and was unfortunate not to win the prize. Designed to suit Jewish funeral arrangements, in their simplicity and austerity, matching the occasion they mark, the buildings create a space where the dead can truly be honoured. The walls, built from rammed earth, are built using materials that can be returned to the earth when the cemetery is full, and needs to be rebuilt, or extended.

But the winner of the Stirling Prize 2018, Bloomberg, did something undeniably incredible in scale. Judge for yourself by seeing the exhibition before it’s too late.


Open at RIBA North until 23 February
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith