Science Lab Beats Koolhaas, Olympic Stadium to Stirling Prize

Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge, U.K.
The Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge by Stanton Williams, one of the buildings nominated for the RIBA Stirling Prize 2012. The Accordia housing project, also in Cambridge, England, was the surprise winner of the prize in 2008. Photo: Stanton Williams/ RIBA via Bloomberg.

A Cambridge University science laboratory last night won the U.K.’s top architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize, beating projects by Rem Koolhaas and the London 2012 Olympic Stadium.

Architects Stanton Williams took home the trophy and 20,000 pounds ($32,144) in prize money for the Sainsbury Laboratory, a plant research compound located in the University of Cambridge botanic gardens. The laboratory was funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, set up by David Sainsbury, who last year was elected Chancellor of Cambridge University.

The Sainsbury Laboratory sits “within a highly sensitive site, one overlooking the woods where Darwin walked with his tutor and mentor (John) Henslow, discussing the origin of species,” said the judges in an e-mailed media release.

“The project seems simple, and this hides the fact that it was a hugely difficult building to achieve,” they said. “It needed to provide flexibility for future changes in scientific practice, and it has achieved this brilliantly.”

Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) was nominated on two counts: for its New Court headquarters of the Rothschild Bank in the City of London (completed with Allies and Morrison), and for a Maggie’s Centre cancer-care facility in Glasgow, Scotland.

The other contenders were: the London Olympic Stadium by Populous; the Hepworth Wakefield museum by David Chipperfield Architects; and the Lyric Theatre in Belfast by O’Donnell + Tuomey.

Past Winners

Another Cambridge building, the Accordia housing project, won in 2008. Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners took the prize for a Maggie’s Centre for cancer patients in Hammersmith, London, in 2009.

Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid won for her MAXXI Museum in Rome in 2010. She succeeded for the second straight year in 2011, as judges praised her school in Brixton, south London, the Evelyn Grace Academy.

RIBA stands for Royal Institute of British Architects. The award was named after architect Sir James Stirling and goes to a project that is either built in the U.K. or by a practice based in Britain. This year’s awards ceremony was held in Manchester. The announcement was made live on the RIBA website

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