Gambling | The Smart Money

Stirling Prize

By accepting bets on subjects such as the Stirling Prize for architecture, savvy bookmakers are building up their profiles, reports Jamie Reid.

October 06 2009
Jamie Reid

The winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction is announced in London on October 6, and the recipient of the Turner Prize will be revealed at Tate Britain on December 7. As we’ve observed here before, the more publicity-conscious bookmakers are every bit as happy to price up a novel, sculpture or piece of installation art as they are to quote odds on a football match or the outcome of the 2.30pm at Sandown.

This autumn, William Hill has been enthusiastically running a book on who will win the Riba (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling Prize, which recognises the building that has been “most significant for the evolution of architecture in the past year”. The award, which is named after the distinguished British architect Sir James Stirling (1926-1992), is open to buildings in Britain built or designed by Riba chartered members and international fellows, or buildings in the rest of the EU designed by practices whose principal offices are in Britain. Past winners include 30 St Mary Axe (better known as the Gherkin) in London in 2004 and Terminal Four of Madrid’s Barajas Airport, designed by Lord Rogers and successful in 2006.

The six buildings short listed this year include two designed by Lord Rogers and his firm Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners. Bodegas Protos, on offer at 4-1 with Hill’s, is a wine co-operative in north-west Spain that features a timber frame, five parallel arches and a terracotta-tiled roof. But the more interesting Rogers nomination is Maggie’s Centre, designed for cancer patients and situated on London’s Fulham Palace Road, only yards from the architect’s riverside offices. The centre is dedicated to the memory of Maggie Keswick Jencks, a landscape designer and artist who was the wife of the US architectural theorist Charles Jencks. The simple Japanese-style structure combines consulting rooms with internal courtyards and gardens in an atmosphere intended to feel positive yet serene. It too has been marked up at 4-1 for the Stirling with Hill’s.

The favourite, though, at 3-1, is the Fuglsang Kuntsmuseum in Denmark, a modern art gallery in a rural setting whose designer, Tony Fretton, has never been nominated for the prize before. Another strikingly simple building, it was apparently conceived to feel neither too flashy nor too exclusive. There are no barriers between the areas where the curators do their work and the gallery spaces where visitors view the exhibits and, of all the nominations, it seems to adhere most closely to the award’s aims.

There is no doubt that Maggie’s Centre would be a popular and emotional winner but the judges have resisted sentiment in the past and a brief trawl of architectural opinion suggests the bookies have got it just about right and that Fretton should be backed to receive the £20,000 cheque on October 17.

Also on the short list – and trading at 9-2 for the prize with Hill’s – is the Masterplan for Liverpool One, a collaboration by 26 architectural practices to revive historic but derelict buildings near Liverpool docks. Scousers, especially football lovers, enjoying their new public spaces and leisure and shopping facilities may be wondering when, if ever, they will see similar long-promised investment in Liverpool FC. The club’s ground at Anfield is one of the most famous and atmospheric sporting venues in the world but, with a crowd capacity of 45,400 and a cramped and restrictive location, it cannot match the commercial opportunities enjoyed by rivals such as Manchester United and Arsenal. When the American duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought the club in 2007 there was talk of a possible £120m being spent on a new 60,000-seater stadium at nearby Stanley Park. That project appears to have stalled with the cost now estimated at upwards of £300m. And with the co-owners falling out both with one another and the Liverpool fans, the spotlight has been as much on Hicks’s financial problems as on the team’s achievements on the pitch.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez took his side to second place in the Premier League last season but, with the influential midfielder Xabi Alonso now at Real Madrid and a suspicion that Benítez, for all his talents, is no match for the wily Sir Alex Ferguson, I’d sooner lay them for the title than back them at 42-5 on Betfair.