Stirling Prizewinner

In a surprise decision the 2012 Stirling prize went to neither of the critics’ favourite buildings, nor to the Olympic Stadium. The winner is a relatively modest laboratory in Cambridge, designed by Stanton Williams, set in the university’s Botanic Gardens.

The decision, announced at a ceremony in Manchester, caught out many of those who had made confident predictions others would triumph.

Alan Stanton said he was “flabbergasted” to have won. But he was clearly pleased the merits of the design had shown through. "The building is one you need to experience, rather than just looking at pictures. The scientists all love working there. Everyone who goes to it enjoys it. We’ve had people asking to be married in it – and it’s a science lab!"

His business partner, Paul Williams, said he was elated. “There were six projects on the shortlist, we had no idea we would win,” he explained.

Judge Joanna van Heyningen said the laboratory was a “sublime piece of calm, beautiful architecture”.

The Stirling trophy is awarded each year to the new European building thought to have “made the greatest contribution to British architecture” after a panel of judges appointed by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), have visited each shortlisted contender. Previous winners include 30 St Mary Axe, London – popularly called the Gherkin – the Scottish parliament building and the Gateshead Millennium bridge. The Observer was media partner for the prize this year.

The other buildings on the shortlist were all built in the British Isles: the east London stadium, a theatre in Belfast, a cancer centre in Glasgow, a City bank office and an art gallery in Yorkshire. But it was the easy style and functionality of the university science facility that won out.