The Royal Institute of British Architects has announced the shortlist for the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize, its highest honor and the U.K.’s most prestigious architecture award. Created in 1996, the award recognizes “the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year” and bestows a roughly $30,000 cash prize. The architects evaluated must be RIBA members, but the building can be anywhere in the EU. From a group of 22 RIBA Award-winning projects, the juries selected a shortlist of six, ranging from residential to institutional. Factors under consideration were design quality and vision as well as sustainability, budget, materials, accessibility, fitness for purpose, innovation, and originality. This year five of the six firms are nominated for the first time, edging out past winners like Zaha Hadid and David Chipperfield, and half are led by women.
Read about each of the shortlisted projects, then pick your favorite—pardon me, favourite—in the ARCHITECT survey.
University of Limerick, by Grafton Architects
At the University of Limerick in mid-west Ireland, Grafton Architects has designed a medical building, two housing blocks, and a bus shelter. Despite an extremely tight budget, the designs are a refreshing departure from dreary university buildings and serve as a powerful point of entry to the campus. The judges believe the project “transforms simple teaching and study spaces into rich, theatrical spaces, with a generosity that verges on the heroic.”
Park Hill, by Hawkins/Brown and Studio Egret West
Two architecture firms, Hawkins/Brown and Studio Egret West teamed up to renovate a concrete housing block in Sheffield, England. The 1961 Brutalist structure was inspired by Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation in Marseille, France, but degenerated due to crime and drugs. For the transformation the architects retained the original structure while making key changes to the interior, upping security measures, removing walls, adding windows, and replacing external brickwork with brightly colored aluminum (which has drawn criticism).
Newhall Be, Alison Brooks Architects
Newhall Be is an innovative suburban housing development approximately 30 miles outside of London. Previous Stirling Prize winner Alison Brooks Architects designed 84 dwellings—mostly courtyard houses on roughly 1,054-square-foot plots. The densely packed black buildings cleverly use internal and external space. They feature balconies, patios, and roof decks rather than gardens, as well as full-height windows, dedicated studies, and convertible roof spaces. Judges praised the design “truly exceptional” and worthy of emulation across the country.
Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center, by Heneghan Peng Architects
In a dramatic union of landscape and architecture, Heneghan Peng Architects’ visitor center is a sculptural complement to the famous Giant’s Causeway on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland. Serving as a shop, café, and exhibition space, the center is striking without detracting from the causeway one kilometer away. Set into the hills, it is almost invisible from most directions, and the parking lot sinks out of sight. Dark columns of varying widths were made from locally quarried volcanic rock—the same material which forms the causeway.
Bishop Edward King Chapel, by Niall McLaughlin Architects
The exquisitely crafted Bishop Edward King Chapel lies in the countryside a few miles from Oxford, England. Serving a theological college and a small religious order of nuns, the light-filled chapel is a graceful construction by Niall McLaughlin Architects made with a $3 million budget. Hand-cut limestone forms a woven, textured exterior. Inside, delicate columns of blonde wood float skyward to intersect by the high windows.
Astley Castle, by Witherford Watson Mann Architects
The Landmark Trust granted Witherford Watson Mann Architects the opportunity to work on Astley Castle, a 12th century fortified manor in north Warwickshire that has been home to three queens of England but suffered from age and a 1978 fire. Now carefully renovated as a vacation rental, castle walls enfold an understated contemporary house. Walls of brick and timber are lovingly woven into the stonework ruins, and large glass windows fill open spaces with light.
The winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize will be announced at an award party at Central Saint Martins in London on September 26.