Architecture: Could these be the last of the few?: Jonathan Glancey looks at some recent triumphs in British public building

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The Independent Culture
THESE buildings are the envy of the world. They are also as rare as hen's teeth and about to become even rarer as plans to cut spending on new public buildings further exact their price on our future architectural heritage.

Although it is in the British nature to carp at public buildings and services - even when these are good - who can fail to be impressed by the new terminal at Stansted airport, designed by Sir Norman Foster & Partners? By its sophisticated, functional and elegant design, this building welcomes visitors to a Britain with a vision of the future.

So, too, does Liverpool Street station, a remodelling of a great Victorian terminus by British Rail's own architects. This is where trains run to and from Stansted airport. It shows how the best British architects - and, yes, some of these are still to be found in what remains of the public sector - can improve on the past without undermining or upsetting it.

The same is true of Foster's Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy, London. Foster has brought fresh life to tired and all-but-forgotten spaces in one of the world's most famous galleries. And at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, Edward Cullinan Architects have shown how a visitors' centre to an ancient monument can bring modern architecture to within yards of the picturesque ruins of a medieval abbey without marring either our perception or our view of it. Cullinan's highly crafted building, mixing old and new materials, is proof that modern British architecture, at its best, is still rooted in popular craft traditions.

Yet these buildings - popular with those who use them and with students of architecture from all over the world - are already dinosaurs: the last noble public buildings in Britain. Unless the Government changes its mind, prepare for the worst.

(Photographs omitted)

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