LEADERS OF THE PACK / The symbol now arriving: Building Of The Year

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The Independent Culture
AT NIGHT it glows in the dark; in daylight, pristine glass and blue steel slice through one of south London's grimiest and most depleted landscapes. In a quietish year for architecture at home, Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners' Waterloo International Terminal has some of the bravura beauty of a Parisian grand projet.

From afar, Grimshaw's aims seem straightforward - to make a dazzling return to the engineering feats of the great Victorian train sheds. But no Victorian shed curves quite so sharply, or extends so dramatically down the track. That familiar language of cantilevered poetry in glass and steel has been taken to its limits. And while most of the surviving Victorian sheds are now cluttered with the pods and sods of a hundred shopping opportunities, Grimshaw's terminal is, and will remain, an unsullied sweep of trains, platforms and canopy.

Yet none of the things we associate with such a romantic creation will happen here - no kissing goodbye on the platform, no waving till the train slips out of sight. Instead, passengers wait underneath the platform in a convincing simulacrum of an airport departure lounge, only reaching the train at departure time. So while Grimshaw's roof is indisputably a winner, it is more symbol than necessity, a clever piece of PR for European Passenger Services' 'totally new concept' in rail travel.

Grimshaw drew inspiration from the terminal's context; Eldred Evans and David Shalev, in designing the Tate Gallery, St Ives, faced the incongruity of siting an art gallery with grand metropolitan links in a fishing village. A semiotician such as Jean Nouvel might have carried off a daring harmonisation with the timber and cracked-paint chaos of St Ives's fishing lofts and rooftops. Evans and Shalev came up with a cautious and, internally, rather fussy building. But it is impossible not to be delighted by a major gallery by the sea, and from Porthmeor Beach all those picturesque elevations make the Tate St Ives an honourable runner-up - an inspired response to a difficult site.

Last year Sir Norman Foster and Partners won our laurels with an elegant library at Cranfield Institute of Technology. This year the firm earns a booby-prize for its additions to the delicate perfection of the Mendelsohn and Chermayeff house in Old Church Street, Chelsea. Foster has blundered into ugliness, and vandalised a great example of early-modern domestic architecture. The new conservatory, visible from the street, makes the heart ache.

(Photograph omitted)

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