RIBA Sterling Stories 2017

On a Thursday evening a few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the RIBA Sterling Stories event. This event takes place prior to the announcement of the Stirling Prize winner of the year, and consist of presentations of the 6 finalist architectural projects. It was my first time attending an event related to such a renowned architecture award, and I was surprised about how the night proceeded.

I arrived at RIBA on 66 Portland Street a few minutes before the event was to begin. Taking my place in the already crowded room filled with students around my age towards the back of the room and more professional-looking adults towards the front, I was observably excited as I waited for the presentations to commerce.

After a brief introduction about the Stirling Prize, the 10-minute presentations by architects of each project began. As an architecture student, I very much aware of the challenge of presenting a project I worked on for months in a very limited time, so I was interested in observing how professional architects deliver presentations. I got my notepad out, opened a blank page and started listening eagerly with my pen ready to jot down any inspirational ideas or notable quotes. During the first presentation by Amin Taha on a low-budget housing project on Barett’s Grove in east London, I was baffled until the last minutes of the talk when he actually started speaking about the nominated project. The house was unconventional and impressive, but the presentation did not reveal much about it.

To my surprise, the following presentation on British Museum World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre was even more disappointing! Two presenters came up on the stage and delivered quite an unprofessional, hasty, and sloppy presentation. Not only did the quality of the presentation detract from the value I give to their project, but it also failed to mention the concept. Flipping through numerous images in the last few minutes, the presentation proved to be nothing more than some basic information about the building and a plethora of not so helpful images.

The rest of the presentations were comparatively more interesting and less rash. Especially the presentation on Photography Studio for Juergen Teller was quite well planned out. The images were interesting, they represented the project effectively and highlighted the best parts of the house.

The project that stood out the most was definitely the Hastings Pier. The last presentation of the night was about this renovated/rebuilt pier completely stripped off of any pretentious ornament and desire of being iconic. By the end of the presentation, I felt that Hastings Pier was by far the most extraordinary project out of the 6 nominees. After the original pier in Essex burnt down, dRMM architects were commissioned to build a modest gathering place for the community. What made the project stand out to me was how the architects managed to capture the essence of what a pier should be. The simple and beautiful structure built at the entrance of the pier, the elements reminiscent of the past, and the vast wooden floor extending over the ocean for meters is simply spectacular. The simplicity is so serene yet breathtaking. I admire how the architects set aside their ego, the desire to create an iconic, sculptural shape on top of the pier that would obstruct the view of the ocean. The feeling of community, respect, and togetherness is almost tangible.

I am elated that Hastings Pier is the winner of Stirling Prize 2017. Its concept renounces iconicism and embodies values of the community, which is quite unprecedented in today’s architecture world dominated by skyscrapers that produce cookie-cutter skylines across the globe.

Following the presentations, a Q&A session took place during which the presenters were asked to explain their thinking process and the contribution of their project to British architecture. Again, to my surprise, some of the presenters did not even bother to try and answer the questions! I was amazed at how informal the event had turned out to be. The presentations and the Q&A session were way too similar to (and in some ways even less professional than) the crits we encounter at architecture school.

By the end of the event, I was inspired to some extent but also baffled by the lack of presentation skills of those architects. I am yet to comprehend how some of them turned up so unprepared for such an important event. Although I didn’t see any ideal presentations to learn from, I did once again realize the significance of a good presentation in architecture.


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