For the second year in a row, Zaha Hadid Architects took home the Royal Institute of British Architects' coveted Stirling Prize, this year for London secondary school Evelyn Grace Academy.
There was quite a bit of consternation within the architectural community upon hearing the news; the first educational institution to take RIBA's highest honor, Evelyn Grace beat out formidable competition, including David Chipperfield's Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany, and Bennetts Associates's Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Many had expected the the parabolic London Olympic Velodrome by Hopkins Architects to win.
"There was a collective groan at the announcement of the Zaha school as winner," said Flora Samuels, head of the University of Sheffield's School of Architecture, according to the Architect's Journal. Her dismay was shared by Stephen Hodder, a previous Stirling Prize winner and the RIBA Vice-President of Nations + Regions, who said, "This year the Stirling Prize did not go to the best building." Rab Bennetts of Bennetts Associates said, "We hadn't expected to beat the Velodrome, but I had Zaha's school down as the least likely to win."
Most scathing of all, Jonathan Ellis Miller, founder of East London architectural practice Ellis Miller, said, "It's a nasty irony and I think it sends a message of crass stupidity and total insensitivity," as reported Building Design.
Whether you were rooting for the Velodrome or the academy, Evelyn Grace is, undeniably, an extraordinary school. In signature Hadid style, its exterior glimmers. The "highly stylized zig-zag of steel and glass," as RIBA called it, is a set of interlocking shapes that slant, jut, and curve. It also demonstrates a creative use of limited urban space, with its racetrack running through the middle of the campus beneath the underpass formed by an elevated hallway. Hadid adds the honor this to her ever-growing list of accolades, including the 2010 StirlingPrize for for MAXXI, the National Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome.