The art of being difficult


I am reading an article in the Guardian about almost-forgotten British architect hero James Stirling. He is one of those curious types that never really made any big landmarks, but still managed to cause quite a stir in his time. According to the article, and another one I found on line, this had a lot to do with his personal traits: Charming, funny, confident, ostentatious and a general clodhopper. He might not have been the most talented architect but always very ambitious, and he teamed up with more precise associates with whom he produced, in a small number of cases, brilliant pieces of architecture. Some of them still suffer from those ambitions; extravagant amounts of thin glazing which causes serious overheating and malfunctioning plan organisations, but they still look amazing; floating, eclectic, complex and elegant. Especially Leicester University Engineering building looks like a masterpiece. More beautiful photos by Quintin Lake here.

I clearly remember my first, and so far probably my only first-grade encounter with a Stirling building. It was, not surprisingly, the Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. Cosidering I was nine or ten at the time, I was allowed to stay outside in the green swooping glass foyer and ended up running up and down the entrance ramp, lined with funny pink and blue steel tubes. I had never seen this kind of building before; colourful and playful, and great for physical exploration, up and down and through the round passage of the sunken sculpture garden. I thought the place was designed for children! It was only later I learned about his ideas for the interior, of special views and spatial surprises.  The second time I was in Stuttgart with my father, only 5 years later, I was already appreciating the building in a more mature manner, but unfortunately it was a Monday so it was closed.



He was given the Pritzker Prize in 1981 (incidentally the year of my birth) but let's for once conclude that the similarities between the Pritzker and the Nobel are more than the prestige: The jury have done quite a few blunders through the years, with the peace prize to Henry Kissinger perhaps being the crown error. Maybe Stirling actually deserved it, but I'm sure it also pissed some people off, and if I am to guess, they were the one's who had worked with him. And as with this year's winner, I can think of quite a few other names of more talented and dedicated architects to better deserve the prize.

More photos of Stirling's works are found on Flickr: