Rem Koolhaas Makes Stirling Prize Shortlist Debut — Twice! — Drowning Out Zaha Hadid's Olympic Pool

The Hepworth, Wakefield
(David Chipperfield Architects)

Zaha Hadid is out, and restraint is in. That is, at least, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects, helmed by institute president Nicholas Grimshaw, which announced the shortlist for its Stirling Prize nominees today.

The prestigious, £20,000- ($31,240) distinction has, for the past two years, gone to Hadid — an architect whose work is the opposite of restrained — but this year's nominated projects feature decidedly simpler lines. The swooping shapes that dominated previous nominees — like the Hopkins Architects' parabolic Olympic Velodrome that narrowly missed the prize in 2011 — are noticeably absent in the 2012 line-up. Most telling is that Hadid's work isn't on the list at all.

Even Rem Koolhaas, an architectural heavyweight known for his renegade irreverence and penchant for disharmonious lines, makes his Stirling shortlist debut with not one, but two buildings — the Rothschild Bank Headquarters in London and the serene Maggie's Centre for Cancer at Glasgow's Gartnavel General Hospital — both of which the Guardian's Rowan Moore describes as "assemblies of intelligently arranged boxes."

The same could be said of David Chipperfield's Hepworth, the other heavyweight contender — heavyweight referring to the staid, concrete right angles that make up the Yorkshire art museum. And following last year's nomination of the Olympic Velodrome is the plain-Jane Olympic Stadium by Populous, which critics had initially harangued as being "pretty underwhelming," and bearing a close resemblance to a "bowl of blancmange" (the European version of calling something vanilla — we think). The rest of the list includes Dublin-based O'Donnell + Tuomey's Lyric Theatre in Belfast — an auditorium of rich, polished wood and angular lines — and the modernist minimalism of Stanton Williams' Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge. 

Does this year's shortlist usher in a new era that favors boxiness and function over innovation and spectacle? The nominations are a tasteful response to hard economic times. Something similar happened in the '70s, a decade mired by high unemployment and rising gas prices, coupled with designs of the most basic, boxy silhouetttes (although with much less grace). And the push for austerity leaves the extravagant Hadid holding the short end of the stick; her Olympic Aquatics Center earned her neither a Stirling Prize nomination nor a ticket to the Games this year, although, rumor has it, they're saving her nomination for next year, when the ugly temporary seating has been removed. The winner of this year's prize will be announced on October 13.

To see the Royal Insitute of British Architects' shortlist for the 2012 Stirling Prize, click the slide show