Passing interest

Hugh Pearman

Existence is in the eye of the beholder. Is it time for another prize?

After this year’s Stirling Prize ceremony – back at London’s Roundhouse and back on form, I thought – there was a bit of banter reported on social media about an imagined different, perhaps complementary, award: the Cedric Price Prize. Or perhaps that should be just the Cedric Prize. This was prompted by the Stirling Prize winner, the phoenix-from-the-flames rebuild of Hastings Pier by dRMM. Alex de Rijke had commented, on receiving the award, that maybe the difference between his project and others on the shortlist was the fact that he hadn’t really done a building at all, but made a public space.

I like the idea of a Cedric Prize. Tempting to make it, given Cedric’s famous ability to argue a convincing case for not doing buildings, for the most significant absence of architecture, the most highly-charged void. By this I would want not a designed space at all, nor even a space defined by surrounding buildings. Just somewhere where something could have happened but thankfully didn’t. Chunks of proper Green Belt where predatory developers have been seen off, they would count. Especially when the green belt in question surrounds a town with plentiful available brownfield land and suburbs ripe for densifying. ‘This woodland copse was not bulldozed by FastBuck & Co Housebuilders because everyone repeatedly told them to go away including – finally and conclusively – the planning appeal inspector’.

One wonders whether, if still alive, he would actively consider sabotage for his now-listed-and-being-refurbished Snowdon Aviary at London Zoo

But it turned out that the Cedric Prize idea was for ‘a structure that can accommodate change, a celebration of the temporary’. Of course: Cedric’s Potteries Thinkbelt and Generator projects spring to mind, and he always claimed to hate the idea of permanence – such that one wonders whether, if still alive, he would actively consider sabotage for his now-listed-and-being-refurbished Snowdon Aviary at London Zoo. I think he would have liked the way that dRMM’s Hastings Pier is a real tabula rasa, a platform inviting temporary events and uses: something also much in tune with the thinking of the Archigram set.

Contrariwise, Price once pointed out that one of his favourite annual excursions, to the Royal Show at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, was essentially to a real town – because every time he went to see it, there it was. Intermittent certainly, but also permanent in its regularity. Sadly this contention was subsequently disproved because the Royal Show ceased to exist in 2009. Cedric did not live to lament its sad demise, but he was right. There are two Glastonburys, after all: the little Somerset town with a population of under 9,000 and the other, much larger, noisy and colourful place, population 135,000, that always seems to be there.

Given the immense proliferation of awards now, it wouldn’t surprise me to find there is already a dedicated temporary-structures prize. They form a part of our own annual MacEwen Award and the Civic Trust Awards, to name just two. The Cedric Prize, of course, would be big on wit and astonishment. Every building is temporary. Even Stonehenge.