ARTS / Judged by its cover: Building of the Year

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The Independent Culture
THE building of the year might well be Sir Norman Foster and Partners' new Library for Cranfield Institute of Technology. Built relatively cheaply and quickly on an undistinguished site, it is a modern building that manages to be profoundly classical in spirit. It is startlingly beautiful.

A deep airy portico and detached louvred steel screens deflect direct sunlight. The principle is close to that of the peripteral temple form - a portico with columns in antis and open flanking colonnades. Functionally it is not quite perfect. The glass staircase looks lovely but tends to raise the noise level. The long steel coffee bar is more romantic sculpture than practical catering. But this is undoubtedly a building to lift the spirits.

The silliest building is Terry Farrell and Company's Vauxhall Cross development, facing the Tate on a superb riverside frontage. At night, lit up, this yellow and green art-deco monster demands some public role - Ministry of Fun perhaps. Its actual function as a home for MI6 is hilariously inapt. Post-modernism was meant to put narrative back into architecture. Vauxhall Cross shows how empty that narrative can be.

From the unbelievable to the unbuilt. Shed a tear for Santiago Calatrava's East London river- crossing, dismissed in favour of a traditional box-girder bridge. A petition of 6,000 signatures calling for this remarkable design to be built was sent to the Department of Transport in November. It has yet to be acknowledged.

The best piece of ephemeral design was Stanton Williams's transformation of the Hayward Gallery for The Art of Mexico. PreColumbian art was very much a part of the modern movement's canon of excellence and an austerely lovely design paid tribute to this special relationship.

Finally a special category - best building by architects under 30 - created for the Monark group. Their average age was 23 when they designed The Finnish Pavilion at Seville's Expo 92. Its two sweeping sculptural sections, made in steel and Finnish pine and inspired by the split rock formation, Hell's Gap, take the prize for the absolute essence of youthful daring in architecture.

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