Zaha Hadid is arguably the most famous active female architect in the world today. And while she's been called a diva, she's certainly one of the most prolific and, having won the Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) Stirling Prize for the second year in a row, one of the more decorated working architects.
Over the weekend, Hadid's Evelyn Grace Academy, the heavily glazed and angular home of a secondary school in South London, claimed the Stirling (and $31,000 purse) from a competitive short list that included the 2012 Olympic Velodrome and a re-imagined Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Last year, Hadid won the Stirling for her work on Rome's MAXXI Centre modern art museum, but the school is her first major building in Britain -- and this is the first year that RIBA allowed previously shortlisted entrants to be considered. (The prize goes to work "built or designed" in Britain.)
The news made a bit of a stir since the velodrome, the work of London-based Hopkins Architects, had been widely pegged as the favorite to win. But as the Financial Times notes, the judges may have been wooed by the school's backstory. Evelyn Grace Academy is run through the charity Ark (Absolute Return for Kids), which is funded by a Arpad "Arki" Busson, a philanthropic investor who lives in London, and it serves disadvantaged youth.
In praising the design of the Olympic Velodrome, The Guardian's Jonathan Glancey says it's "as lean, spare and as well engineered as the lightweight machines that will fly around its banked circuit next summer." Indeed, the building's cedar-clad roof echos the swooping shape of the cycling track inside.
In Essen, Germany, the Folkwang Museum also made the shortlist. Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, the building relies heavily on daylighting, derived through numerous interior courtyards, to illuminate the art inside. The exterior walls are comprised of panels of crush, recycled glass, giving the facade an "alabaster" look.
The renovation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, by Bennetts Associates Architects, retains the theater's facade and foyer. But it replaced the building's large auditorium, which had suffered from poor acoustics. The architects kept much of the building's art deco styling and greatly improved the sound and heightened the intimacy inside the 1,000-seat auditorium.
Northern Ireland's An Gaelaras, an Irish language arts and culture center designed by O'Donnell + Tuomey, also made the shortlist. The urban building is compact and tall and the designers used differing facades and a large roof light to give the sense of many buildings within one. That's just what it needs to be, given that it houses a theatre, working spaces, cafes and other types of meetings spaces.
London's Allford Hall Monaghan Morris practice was shortlisted for The Angel Building, another renovation -- but this one done in the name of commerce rather that art. That said, RIBA called the building elegant and said its refurbished interior showed "great refinement." The new, energy-efficient building also features significantly more rentable office space than its first version and will soon house a Jamie Oliver restaurant, as well.
Here is The Guardian's video digest of all the shortlisted projects:
Photo: Evelyn Grace Academy, Flickr/Andrewpaulcarr