Often a ‘prophet without honour in his own country’, he did not live long enough to achieve the public recognition and success his peers achieved after his untimely death.
As a result some of his best work was done abroad, particularly in Germany. His career falls into two distinct phases and there were clear signs in his posthumously completed buildings and in his never-built designs that he was beginning to move into a third and much more interesting phase in the early 1900s.
Born: 1926 (-1992)
Working in partnership with James Gowan he produced in the Leicester Engineering Building, one of the seminal buildings of the century. With its complex geometries and revolutionary use of materials the building pre-figured some very 21st century approaches. The red-brick experiments, as he termed them, continued with the History Faculty Building for the University of Cambridge and the Florey Building for Oxford University. He then changed tack and began to explore pre-fabrication with the Olivetti Training School and the housing at Runcorn New Town.
In the late 70s and 80s he led the Post-modern movement with the Staatsgallerie Stuttgart, the Clore Gallery, London and No. 1 Poultry, London.
Sir James Stirling
Although this trio of projects made him world famous, it was the Braun building in Melsungen, Germany and the many unrealised competition entries that pointed the way forward to what would have undoubtedly have been superstardom in the 21st century.
He was widely known as Big Jim on account of his girth – the result of his love of the good life. His dual qualifications for having the prize named after him were that he was eminent and he was dead – it could not have been named after a living architect as that would have barred them from entering for the prize.
He won the Royal Gold Medal in 1980 ‘in recognition of past achievements which exist in their own right, as well as the potential of unbuilt projects, both past and future, which are an inseparable part of the Stirling vocabulary’.
He died, at the height of his powers, following a routine operation. The RIBA Stirling Prize is named after James Stirling.
Buildings by Stirling:
- Leicester Engineering Building
- History Faculty Building for the University of Cambridge and the Florey Building for Oxford University, 1968
- Staatsgallerie, Stuttgart, 1983
- Clore Gallery extension to the Tate Gallery, London, 1986
- No. 1 Poultry, London, 1998
- Braun building in Melsungen, Germany