It’s all about the mood of the room, the Stirling Prize ceremony. Down the years there have been good nights and bad nights. Sometimes this is due to the surroundings, sometimes to the outcome, sometimes to external factors.
Of the bad ones, the first televised Stirling – the year Will Alsop won for his Peckham Library - was terrible, for instance, with endless production delays rapidly draining goodwill from the participants. The year Grimshaw failed to win for his Eden Project wasn’t great either, the acoustics of the British Museum Great Court where it was held being notoriously awful. The building that pipped him that year, Wilkinson Eyre’s Magna centre in Rotherham, was the chilly venue for 2011’s Stirling, required coach transfers from Sheffield and didn’t really work – even before Zaha won with her generally unfancied Evelyn Grace Academy, when nearly everyone wanted Hopkins to win for its 2012 Velodrome.
This year, however, felt good in the way that Glasgow felt good in 1999, when Future Systems won for their media centre at Lord’s and the prize money helped them out of a tight spot with their bank. From the reception in Alfred Waterhouse’s Gothic Revival town hall in Manchester – with RIBA NW’s mobile exhibition truck pulled up outside, containing the Stirling shortlist – through the relaxed, non-televised awards ceremony (MCd by the drily witty Mark Lawson) in the nearby exhibition centre to the after-party in the Stephen Hodder-designed CUBE gallery, this was a warm-hearted evening. Although once again the winner was not the generally expected one, that didn’t matter – not only because of the evident excellence of the Sainsbury Laboratory, but also because the consistently good Stanton Williams had never even been shortlisted previously. Alan Stanton and Paul Williams, unwavering modernists with a keen eye for detail, are respected and held in great affection by their peers, and it showed.
As the participants emerged blinking into the bright sunshine the next morning, Manchester was looking great. A new tower has joined the skyline: Hodder’s “Student Castle” by Oxford Road station, which is a considerable cut above most new student accommodation. As the President-elect of the RIBA remarked at the after-party: “I do buildings as well, you know.”