Stirling work pays dividends

This year’s Stirling Prize saw a new multimedia partnership with the BBC that engaged the public. RIBA communications director Gill Webber reports

Live from the prize: Witherford Watson Mann and Landmark Trust director Anna Keay are congratulated by president Stephen Hodder (left) and presenter George Clarke (right).
Live from the prize: Witherford Watson Mann and Landmark Trust director Anna Keay are congratulated by president Stephen Hodder (left) and presenter George Clarke (right).

If the RIBA Journal’s copy deadline had been a few days later the graph in Steve Parnell’s and Nathan Breeze’s article ‘As Seen on TV’ (RIBAJ October 2013) about media coverage of this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize would have gone off the scale – upwards.  Compared with 2004’s highest viewing figure of 1.3m for the Stirling Prize programme on Channel 4, the number of 2013 viewers is extraordinary. TV coverage included BBC News At Ten (4.8m viewers), the BBC News Channel (9.4m weekly viewers) and BBC News Online (19.8m weekly readers). So it may not have been scheduled against the X Factor (audience 8m), but the audience certainly compares favourably with one of TV’s most popular shows.

In its 18th year, the prize has never had better audience reach and public engagement.  These audience figures were delivered through the RIBA’s partnership with BBC News Online, which resulted in in-depth coverage of the Prize with regular features through seven days of BBC TV and online news programming around the world, including a 30 minute special programme and short films featuring each of the shortlisted buildings. The prize-giving event itself was broadcast a number of times live on the night by the BBC, on the News at Ten and on the BBC News Channel. Students from the University of Limerick and nuns from Bishop Edward King Chapel, along with other clients, gave TV and radio interviews, explaining what makes the buildings so special. All national newspapers reported the Prize. Over 65,000 members of the public took part in the BBC’s online vote. 

Why is this media coverage so important?  The prize has two key aims: to reward excellence and to engage the public with architecture. A simple beauty parade of images of impressive buildings or TV footage of architects sitting at a formal dinner just reinforces the public perception of architecture as remote and elitist.  This in-depth coverage, in particular the BBC’s beautiful films on each shortlisted project, gave a real insight into what architecture can do and what it is about.  

A BBC producer recently said that ‘architecture is the new cookery’ for TV.  This media exposure really does show that the RIBA Stirling Prize does for architecture what the Booker and Turner Prizes have done for literature and art: it promotes architecture to a wider audience.