Stirling – the availability of beauty

19 Nov 18 | Paul Drew

It is undoubtedly a beautifully crafted building in its own way it is set to be one of the timeless masterpieces of the early 21st century. Of its many life affirming virtues there is: how it sits in its urban setting, how it is experienced by occupiers, its heavily UK sources components, its light, and communal spaces; in particular, its highly sculptural staircase and the re-siting of archaeological records.

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The recently announced winner of the Stirling Prize for Architecture expresses one of the dilemmas at the heart of the architectural profession and its culture. The building is the European corporate headquarters of Bloomberg, the finance and media company.
Bloomberg has achieved what it set out to do, which was to deliver a building that will inspire and encourage business collaboration. The Stirling prize judges stated it was a “once in a generation project that has pushed the boundaries of research and innovation in architecture”.
It is undoubtedly a beautifully crafted building in its own way it is set to be one of the timeless masterpieces of the early 21st century. Of its many life affirming virtues there is: how it sits in its urban setting, how it is experienced by occupiers, its heavily UK sources components, its light, and communal spaces; in particular, its highly sculptural staircase and the re-siting of archaeological records.
So, does the current winner show signs of a shifting Stirling agenda? One that attempts to reflect where the UK is at present. There is a feeling that the political and market changes the country is experiencing should be reflected in a positive way though such an award. Perhaps to suggest good design can prevail in adversity, or that London will retain its cultural prominence.
I doubt we shall ever know for certain. Bloomberg’s selection for the Stirling Prize does appear to side-step a legacy of projects. A legacy that credits design capabilities being used for wider social benefit. Serving social needs has been demonstrated by other Stirling Prize winners over recent years. To recap a few, there has been:
• A couple of schools using Building Schools for the Future funding;
• A centre for cancer care;
• A pier where a seaside community were instrumental in the project briefing;
• Housing that facilitated the generation of community identity;
• two art galleries which allows public access; and,
• A theatre.
Louis Sullivan’s original architectural edict that ‘form follows function’ was, perhaps, justifiably reinterpreted by Will Self in 2014 by stating his view that ‘form follows money’.
Perhaps the measure of exemplar buildings should reflect a new Louis Sullivan interpretation, that ‘form follows identity’ and good design is a vehicle for this. Be it a profession, a community, or our society as a whole, reconfirming that beauty is not the preserve of large corporations would be sensible, even though one cannot deny this building is beautiful. But perhaps we should not to forget that with more universally applied design talent, more people can gain delight in what we build.

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