Critics' Awards 1999 - Architecture: The year of the all-seeing eye

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The Independent Culture
The past year has been a vintage one for architecture. After what seems like yonks of fudging and compromising, designers in Britain suddenly seem free to express themselves. Combine this with the millennium rush and lottery cash, and there have been some unique opportunities. What do we have to show for it? Well, in addition to the obvious - a very big but elegant tent on the Greenwich peninsula - the list is rather impressive.

In the spring, Future Systems celebrated the completion of two of their most ambitious projects to date. The Media Centre at Lord's Cricket Ground (below), a metal pod on legs, attracted attention and set a precedent for prefabricated modern buildings in sensitive settings. Meanwhile on the Pembrokeshire coast the same architects finished a new house for the MP Bob Marshall Andrews. The curvy building is covered in grass so its only visible feature is a glass "eye" overlooking the sea.

Although other notable projects were completed outside the capital - including the Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield by Nigel Coates and the Dean Centre in Edinburgh by Terry Farrell - London has seen most of the action. The new stations on the Jubi-lee Line extension are fine examples of how public buildings should be. The vast booking hall at Canary Wharf by Lord Foster is made in exquisitely cast concrete, while both Alsop & Stormer at North Greenwich and MacCormac Jamieson Prichard at Southwark have startled travellers by lining their stations in deep-blue glass.

The remodelled Royal Opera House by Dixon Jones stole the architectural limelight towards the end of the year. But the treatment seems clumsy and cliched when compared to the much anticipated conversion at the new Tate Modern at Bankside by Herzog de Meuron, or even Haworth Tompkins' clever thinking at the almost completed refurbishment of the Royal Court theatre.

The question of what constitutes a work of architecture has been much discussed this year, with many of the most interesting projects not being buildings at all. A good example is Zaha Hadid's stunning setting for the Hayward Gallery's fashion exhibition "Addressing the Century", which looked like a rocky landscape of glass and glamour. As a clever comment on the adaptable nature of cities, Rem Koolhaas later deconstructed Hadid's work and used it as the basis for the exhibition "Cities on the Move".

With all the controversy surrounding the Dome and Wembley Stadium, it's important not to overlook more modest projects. Perhaps the most charming of the year was a temporary structure in Cornwall where the American artist James Turrell built a low-budget building with a hole in the roof for observing the eclipse of the sun.

Previous winners

1991 Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy (Norman Foster)

1992 Library for Cranfield Institute of Technology (Norman Foster)

1993 Waterloo International Terminal (Nicholas Grimshaw)

1994 St John's College, Oxford, new block (Richard MacCormack)

1995 Exhibition stand for magazine Blueprint at Constructions Exhibition Interbuild (Zaha Hadid)

1996 Ruskin Library at University of Lancaster (Mac Cormac (chk) Jameson Prichard

1997 British Library (Colin St John Wilson)

1998 Geffrye Museum, London (Branson Coates)