Two of Oxford’s newest landmarks, the Blavatnik School of Government (BSG) and the Weston Library, appeared amongst six buildings shortlisted this year for the Stirling Prize.
The prestigious prize is awarded annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to the country’s best new building. The winner of the 2016 prize is to be announced on October 6.
Upon announcing the shortlist, the jury noted that it is “unprecedented” in the prize’s 21 years of existence for two buildings from one institution to be shortlisted at the same time.
The BSG and Weston Library were designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and WilkinsonEyre respectively and have already both been awarded the 2016 RIBA National and South awards. Both buildings were officially opened by HRH Prince William in Trinity of this year.
They now stand against works including DRMM Architects’ London housing project Trafalgar Place and the City of Glasgow’s Riverside Campus college facilities. As is the case this year, buildings commissioned by academic institutions have regularly been represented among the six shortlisted architectural works.
Announcing RIBA’s choices, president Jane Duncan commented on this strong presence: “With the dominance of university and further education buildings on the shortlist, it is clear that quality architecture’s main patrons this year are from the education sector.”
However, the selection has not been received without criticism, with critic Rowan Moore writing in the Guardian that the BSG’s facade is “problematic, hermetic and excluding, a too-honest representation of the them-and-us culture in which the future world leaders – for now students at the Blavatnik – will probably operate.”
The BSG has also been targeted by activists for having been built in large part thanks to a donation by Russian-born American billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.
Alvin Ong, who recently graduated with a BfA from the Ruskin School of Art, told Cherwell he was “really impressed with Herzog & de Meuron’s work with Blavatnik.”
“It’s really evocative of the Radcliffe Camera and the interior spaces are really exciting,” he added. “In relation to the historic spaces in Oxford, Blavatnik superficially supports the idea that this ancient university isn’t a time capsule. Regarding funds, it’s a bit too late to start whining about where the funds came from isn’t it? I mean, say we don’t use Russian money, are these activists capable of securing alternative sponsors themselves?”