The 50 Best; THE BEST BUILDINGS; OF THE NINETIES

Modern architecture in Britain is booming - but how do you sort the good from the bad from the downright ugly? The Information asked a panel of architectural experts to pass comment on our 50 best British buildings of the 1990s - most of which can be viewed, from the outside at least, completely for free. Compiled by Fiona Sturges

THE PANEL: Paul Finch, editor of the `Architects' Journal'; Amanda Levete, co-founder of the pioneering architectural practice Future Systems; Nonie Niesewand, architecture correspondent of `The Independent'; Lucy Musgrave, head of London's Architecture Association; and Peter York, social commentator.

NOTE: THE INTERIORS OF BUILDINGS ARE ONLY OPEN TO THE PUBLIC WHERE STATED. WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO CHECK DETAILS OF OPENING HOURS AND ADMISSION CHARGES, READERS ARE ADVISED TO RING VENUES BEFORE SETTING OUT.

NEXT WEEK: OUR EXPERT PANEL PREVIEWS XXXXXX.

CORRECTION: In The Information published on 19 September, the career of designer John Flett was celebrated as one of our 50 Best British Fashion Moments. John Flett died at the age of 27 of a heart attack - not, as stated, from an Aids-related illness. We would like to apologise to his family and friends for the error. He deserves his place in the 50 Best for his talent as a designer and not for any other reason.

TATE GALLERY, ST IVES

This airy four-floor building overlooks Porthmeor Beach and houses a spectacular collection of art from the West Country. The interiors imitate studios of local artists, while the exterior uses heavy slate roofing and local pebble-dash render to fall in with local buildings. "Landscape art has never looked so good as it does here," says Nonie Niesewand.

Vital statistics: Evans and Shalev Architects. Completed 1993. Cost pounds 2.4m.

Where to see it: Porthmeor Beach, St Ives, Cornwall (01736 796226); open Tues-Sun 11am-5pm. Admission pounds 3.50 adult, concs pounds 2.50.

SCOTTISH EXHIBITION AND CONFERENCE CENTRE

Affectionately known as the "Armadillo", this 3,000-seat conference centre sits on the north bank of the River Clyde in Glasgow. A photogenic building, it is characterised by a series of soaring steel sails with a glazed entrance hall at the creature's mouth and, more alarmingly, an exit at its rear. "Scotland's answer to the Sydney Opera House," says Paul Finch.

Vital statistics: Norman Foster & Partners. Completed 1997. Cost pounds 38m.

Where to see it: Finnieston, Glasgow (0141-248 3000). Tours can be arranged, but phone first.

NEW BRITISH LIBRARY

The British Museum extension was planned in 1962, but went through three revisions and two site changes prior to completion. "A national monument of Lhasa-like red brick, perched like Shangri-la above the piazza at St Pancras," says Nonie. The interior greets the visitor with a magnificent three-tier entrance hall made of Portland stone.

Vital statistics: Colin St John Wilson & Partners. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 520m.

Where to see it: 96 Euston Road, London NW1 (0171-412 7332); reading rooms are open Mon & Thurs 9.30am-6pm, Tues & Wed 9.30am-8pm, Fri & Sat 9.30am-5pm.

STRATFORD PICTURE HOUSE

This dazzling glass and steel construction promises to take the viewer on an intellectual voyage - "celluloid heaven," according to Paul Finch. The building boasts a three-storey cylindrical drum, suspended by metal rods from the glass ceiling and running the length of the building. It was designed to resemble a jumbo-jet fuselage and floods the foyer with natural light. "A sculptural and elegant contribution to a new civic square," says Lucy Musgrave.

Vital statistics: Burrell Foley Fischer. Completed 1997. Cost pounds 2.8m.

Where to see it: Jerry Raffle Square, Salway Road, London E15 (0181-555 3366); open daily, times vary.

WATERLOO EUROSTAR TERMINAL

"A glazed caterpillar of a terminus," says Nonie Niesewand. The see- through roof of Nicholas Grimshaw's streamlined construction is a glowing example of architectural spectacle combined with technical expertise, while the design is devised to guide the passengers gently but swiftly through the building - "rather like one of those leisure-centre flumes," says Peter Finch.

Vital statistics: Nicholas Grimshaw Architects. Completed 1993. Cost pounds 130m.

Where to see it: Waterloo International, London SE1 (0171-928 0660); open 24 hours.

STANSTED AIRPORT

Six years in the making, Stansted is actually designed to get you in and out as soon as possible. This vast edifice pulls train passengers into its underbelly before ejecting them into the concourse and then, after check-in, whisking them to their respective gates on a rollercoaster- like monorail. The stunning roof has a "gull-wing" profile, so-called because of its aerodynamic appearance. "It's like being in a movie about the modern world," says Peter York.

Vital statistics: Norman Foster & Partners. Opened 1991. Cost pounds 400m.

Where to see it: Stansted Airport, Essex (01279 680500); open 24 hours.

LONDON ARK

"A courageous building that finally broke the box," says Amanda Levete. Clad in bands of copper armour, Ralph Erskine's oddly shaped edifice boasts a strong exterior that protects its occupants from the madness of the flyover directly outside. Indeed, the design was governed by a desire to improve working conditions. Tiered, open-plan office spaces maximise natural light, while traffic noise is obliterated by hi-tech triple-glazing.

Vital statistics: Ralph Erskine. Completed in 1991. Cost pounds 33.5m.

Where to see it: Talgarth Rd, London W6; guided tours, but call 0181- 341 1371 for an appointment.

CHANNEL 4 BUILDING

"This has a spectacular entrance way, with curved glass revealing the people working inside," says Lucy Musgrave. "Not only dramatic, but open and democratic." The two, four-storey wings either side of the entrance form a glacial L-shape, bringing a "gloomy bit of Westminster to life," says Paul Finch. This hi-tech, latter-day-Gothic building creates a stunning illusion of space in an urban area.

Vital statistics: Richard Rogers Partnership. Completed 1994. Cost pounds 38.5m.

Where to see it: 214 Horseferry Road, London SW1 (0171-306 8444).

LORD'S MEDIA CENTRE

A glistening, space-age creation from the notoriously avant-garde and ecologically obsessed Future Systems. The curved aluminium shell is itself a feat of engineering. Having been welded into shape at a Cornish boatyard, it rests 14 metres in the air on stilts, providing a perfect vantage point for the world's media to watch the cricket. "A technical masterpiece," says Lucy Musgrave.

Vital statistics: Future Systems. Cost pounds 5.2m.

Where to see it: Lord's Cricket Ground, London NW8 (0171-289 1611).

RUSKIN LIBRARY

This concrete shrine to the 19th-century art critic boasts an ecclesiastical flavour, with giant doors at the front guarded by shutters like a medieval altar triptych. Stainless-steel plates bolted onto the outside follow Ruskin's creed that buildings shouldn't hide what holds them up; while white concrete blocks sparkling with a marble aggregate recall his fascination with Venetian and Tuscan materials.

Vital statistics: MacCormac, Jamieson and Pritchard. Completed 1997. Cost pounds 1.7m.

Where to see it: University of Lancaster, Lancaster (01524 65201); Mon- Sat 11am-4pm, Sun 1pm-4pm. WESTBOURNE GROVE PUBLIC LAVATORIES

In the early Eighties, a resident of Westbourne Grove looked out of his window at the grubby lavatory in the middle of a traffic island over the road. Hewsea planners to commission something a bit special. This turquoise and benches. "Proof that small can be beautiful," says Paul Finch. "Perfect for laid-back west Londoners," notes Peter York.

Vital statistics: CZWG Architects. Completed 1993. Cost pounds 190,000.

Where to see it: Junction of Colville Rd & Westbourne Grove, London W11 (0171-727 3095); Mon-Fri 10am-6pm.

OXO TOWER

"The views of London are exceptional," says Lucy Musgrave of this 10- storey landmark, formerly a meat warehouse, on London's South Bank. The building was recently upholstered as a commercial development that aimed to reconcile public functions (eating) with private functions (housing). The star attractions are the hyper-trendy bar, brasserie and restaurant, capped by an "aerofoil" roof with movable fins that change colour from white by day to ultramarine at night, but there is also a public viewing gallery on the eighth floor.

Vital statistics: Lifschutz Davidson Architects. Completed 1996. Cost pounds 20m.

Where to see it: Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House St, London SE1 (0171-401 3610). Viewing gallery open daily 11am-10pm.

THAMES WATER MAIN RING TOWER

"A really interesting collaboration between a group of bright young students at the Royal College of Art and Alan Brooks," says Lucy Musgrave, of what is possibly the most viewed piece of new architecture in London - it is located on one of the capital's busiest junctions. A giant, solar-powered barometer, in the form of a steel-and-glass column of blue water that rises and falls according to the weather, it was commissioned by Thames Water to disguise a dull but necessary "surge shaft'' and to celebrate its new London main ring.

Vital statistics: Alan Brooks, Randall and Stacey Architects/RCA students. Completed 1994. Cost undisclosed.

Where to see it: Shepherd's Bush Roundabout, London W11 (0171-636 8686).

THE SAINSBURY WING

Michael Heseltine proposed a competition in 1980 to develop this site, but the winning plans were famously rejected by Prince Charles in 1984 as "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend". The present scheme, funded by the Sainsbury brothers, appeased him with a steel-and-concrete wing in a classical vein. It houses the National Gallery's Italian Renaissance and Northern European collections. "A resounding success," says Peter York.

Vital statistics: Venturi & Scott Brown Associates. Completed 1991. Cost pounds 35.5m.

Where to see it: National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2 (0171- 839 3321); open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 2pm-6pm. Admission free.

MI6 HEADQUARTERS

"A big, brash Blofeld of a building," says Nonie Niesewand. Until recently, the Secret Services have been inconspicuously lodged in an undistinguished 1960s office a la James Bond; by contrast, their new building is unmistakeable. Utterly impenetrable with its darkened windows, hidden entrances and wire mesh (to prevent electromagnetic information passing in and out), its giant, symmetrical hulk is settled four storeys high on the south bank of the Thames. "A love-it-or-loathe-it landmark," says Paul Finch.

Vital statistics: Terry Farrell Architects. Completed 1993. Cost pounds 125m.

Where to see it: Vauxhall Cross, Albert Embankment, London SE1 (best viewed from Vauxhall Bridge).

CHALLENGE OF MATERIALS FOOTBRIDGE, SCIENCE MUSEUM

This bridge may be the focus of the Science Museum's new gallery, but blink and you'll miss it. Minimalist to the extreme, it comprises hundreds of glass planks suspended across the central atrium by alarmingly slender stainless-steel wires - like threads of a spider's web - challenging visitors to set foot on it despite its apparent fragility. "A beautiful essay in lightness and strength," says Amanda Levete.

Vital statistics: Jasper Jacobs Assoc., Chris Wilkinson Architects, Whitby Bird and Partners. Completed 1997. Cost pounds 1.2m.

Where to see it: Science Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 (0171-938 9123); daily 10am-6pm. Admission pounds 6.50; free after 4.30pm.

FIFTH FLOOR, HARVEY NICHOLS

"The Sloanes' favourite watering hole, the top floor at Harvey Nicks combines bar, food store and restaurants in a supermarket space," says Nonie Niesewand. The cool, up-tempo eatery is bathed in natural light, and no expense has been spared on the wooden floor-panelling, the barrel- vaulted ceiling and the zig-zag steel-and-glass roof ("a nice way to get light into a shop," remarks Peter York). Even the chairs were designed by the architect.

Vital statistics: Wickham & Associates. Completed 1992. Cost pounds 5.5m.

Where to see it: 109-125 Knightsbridge, London SW1 (0171-235 5000); Mon- Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 12noon-6pm.

CARDIFF BAY VISITORS CENTRE

This low-cost, low-tech, sci-fi tube, located on the shore of the bay and constructed out of marine plywood, steel and PVC, has single-handedly put Cardiff on the architectural map, and "set a standard rarely followed", according to Paul Finch. It was originally planned as a temporary construction for a series of exhibitions about the Cardiff Bay development, but proved so popular that it stayed put.

Vital statistics: Allsop & Stormer. Completed 1991. Cost pounds 400,000.

Where to see it: Harbour Drive, Cardiff Bay (01222 463833); summer Mon- Fri 9.30am-7.30pm, weekends 10.30am-7.30pm; winter closes 5pm. Admission free.

HENLEY RIVER & ROWING MUSEUM

"Ye olde England gets a modernist makeover," says Nonie Niesewand. The immense oak-clad roof of Chipperfield's Japanese-influenced museum is designed to resemble an upturned boat - maybe not the ideal image for rowers on the river, but certainly an arresting spectacle. The timber cladding gives way below the tree line to a ground-floor wall of glass resting on a concrete plinth that doubles up as a flood plain. If the river were to burst its banks, the museum would appear to float.

Vital statistics: David Chipperfield Architects. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 6.4m.

Where to see it: Mill Meadows, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon (01491 415600); Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-6pm. Admission pounds 4.75, concs pounds 3.75.

WESTERN MORNING NEWSPAPER PRESS

This ship-like structure, on the outskirts of the West Country's busiest port, is literally rooted in its natural setting, since it juts out of the hillside. The curvy glass facade, held up by steel ribs, allows the viewer to see straight into the building and observe the printing process, while the carefully orchestrated entrance, arranged like a gangplank, takes you into the epicentre of the building. "Daily Expressionism," says Paul Finch.

Vital statistics: Nicholas Grimshaw Architects. Completed 1992. Cost pounds 15m.

Where to see it: 17 Brest Road, Derriford Business Park, Plymouth (01752 765500).

STADIUM OF LIGHT, SUNDERLAND

"The Stadium of Light threatened to steal the light from the nearby National Glass Centre (see page 10)," says Nonie Niesewand. Drawing inspiration from Sunderland's industrial heritage in glass making, ship building and coal mining, this glacial edifice bears testament to the elevated status of football. The designer facilities encapsulate a club superstore, a players' lounge, a glass-fronted restaurant and 54 executive boxes. The largest new arena in the country, with a capacity of 42,000.

Vital statistics: Taylor, Tulip & Hunter. Opened 1997. Cost: pounds 21m.

Where to see it: Sunderland AFC, Sunderland (0191-551 5055). Guided tours daily, except match days; pounds 6, concs pounds 4, family ticket pounds 18.

ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL MAKEOVER

The long battle to improve London's much-maligned South Bank Centre was partly won by a small practice who worked on the main foyer, the Waterloo foyer and the Hayward Gallery pavilion. The most prominent scheme, however, is the People's Palace restaurant - "Peter Mandelson's favourite riverfront spot," reveals Nonie Niesewand - made from wood, limestone and glass, and occupying a lofty space on the third floor.

Vital statistics: Allies & Morrison. Completed 1995. Cost pounds 5m.

Where to see it: South Bank, London SE1. RFH (0171-960 4242); daily 10am- 10.30pm. The People's Palace (0171-928 9999); daily 12noon-3pm & 5-11pm. IMAGINATION BUILDING

Winner of a RIBA award, the late Ron Herron's headquarters for the cutting- edge design team converted a derelict schoolhouse into a dazzlingly hi-tech, glazed spectre "in which the circulation of one space into another becomes an event in itself", according to Amanda Levete. Hidden behind a modest Edwardian facade in keeping with the West End setting, a multitude of sparkling walkways crisscross the grand hall, which reveals six storeys under a tent-like "floating" roof - so-called because of its weightless appearance.

Vital statistics: Herron & Associates. Completed 1990. Cost pounds 6m.

Where to see it: Store Street, London WC1 (0171-323 3300). Visits are restricted and must be arranged in advance.

GLYNDEBOURNE OPERA HOUSE

In 1934, John Christie was asked by his opera-singer wife to build her an opera house and to "do the thing properly". Sixty years later, the new opera house, built in the the footprint of the old one, seats 1,200 and is "a built-up aria that works", according to Paul Finch. Constructed of brick, and providing perfect acoustics, the theatre is round, in the style of a Roman amphitheatre, with balcony fronts and wall panels made from antique pine, and a softly lit, tented foyer.

Vital statistics: Michael Hopkins & Partners. Completed 1994. Cost pounds 24m.

Where to see it: Glyndebourne, near Lewes, East Sussex (01273 812321). Group tours by arrangement with the house manager.

COCHRANE THEATRE

This reworking of the 1960s structure has provided a striking and prestigious new home for black theatre in the centre of London, with full-height glazing, deep colours and a copper-faced bar all confirming its West African identity. The first-floor bar has been extended out over the pavement, allowing theatre-goers to sit outside and lending the area a Bohemian ambience. Access to the auditorium is through a carved door that depicts Ogun, the Yoruba guardian of creativity.

Vital statistics: Robinson Thorne Architects. Completed 1991. Cost pounds 400,000.

Where to see it: Southampton Row, London WC1 (0171-242 7040); foyer open daily 10am-6pm.

BP CENTRE, STOCKLEY PARK

Three rows of steel "Y" frames, like a giant washing line, make up this speculative building. Intended to be assembled extremely fast, without any unnecessary supports, the whole structure is pinned down by a series of slender cables, rather like a massive tent. Foster conceived the design in order to maximise natural light, though BP have sadly turned the interior into a series of cellular offices. To be appreciated only from the outside.

Vital statistics: Norman Foster & Partners. Completed 1990. Cost pounds 1.4m.

Where to see it: Stockley Park, Heathrow, Middlesex (0171-496 4000).

NATIONAL CENTRE FOR POPULAR MUSIC, SHEFFIELD

Four industrial drums, like giant barrels of beer, are linked together with glass in an outlandish tribute to music, from hip-hop to opera, in Sheffield's rapidly expanding "cultural quarter"; in contrast, the central glazed space was designed in imitation of a Palladian central hall. The drums, clad in locally made stainless steel, will constitute the four main elements of the museum's display area for interactive and temporary exhibitions. Not yet open, but the exterior is worth seeing.

Vital statistics: Branson Coates Architects. To be completed 1998. Cost pounds 15m.

Where to see it: National Centre For Popular Music, Paternoster Rd, Sheffield (0114 2798941).

CARMELITE MONASTERY

"Minimalism joins forces with spiritualism as architects turn to monasteries and nunneries to practise the flotation-tank school of therapeutic architecture," says Nonie Niesewand. McLaughlin's exquisite sequence of interiors for a Carmelite monastery in Kensington has achieved "a successful contrast of old and new", according to Amanda Levete. The chapel is a Victorian interior converted using limestone, stucco, oak, hand-blown glass, leather and gold - but is sadly reserved for contemplation by the resident monks only.

Vital statistics: Niall McLaughlin. Completed 1992. Cost undisclosed.

Where to see it: 41 Kensington Church Street, London W8.

WINDSOR CASTLE RECONSTRUCTION

Since the fire of 1992, five years have been spent restoring the castle to its former glory in an amalgamation of material salvaged from the debris and modern reproductions. This included a "modern reinterpretation of gothic", seen in the new ceiling for St Georges Hall, constructed out of green oak, and the Grand Reception room.

Vital statistics: Donald Insall Associates (restoration). Siddell Gibson (reinterpretation of gothic). Completed 1997. Cost pounds 36.5m.

Where to see it: Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire (01753 868286); open daily 10am-4pm. Admission pounds 9.50.

HAUER KING HOUSE, ISLINGTON

This small but exquisite hi-tech glass villa in Islington is one of Britain's most provocative contemporary dwellings: "a private house, but utterly public in impact," notes Paul. It lies in the affluent area of Canonbury, between a pub and a row of Georgian townhouses, and is almost entirely transparent; lit from behind at night, it resembles a glass cabinet. The subject of two television documentaries, the building was put up for sale last year, on the owners' proviso that it stays a residential property.

Vital statistics: Future Systems. Completed 1994. Cost undisclosed.

Where to see it: 40 Douglas Road, Canonbury, N1.

STRATFORD TERMINAL

Providing a particularly glamourous setting for resting trains, this bold and revolutionary depot "takes glass into fluid curves without any ugly corseting", says Nonie Niesewand. The star attraction is a silver-glazed roof that curves neatly into a transparent wall facing the town centre. This provides a particularly bright and airy working environment for London Underground workers who rarely see the light of day. The depot has been quietly collecting architectural awards while it awaits the arrival of the fully functioning Jubilee Tube line it was built to serve.

Vital statistics: Chris Wilkinson Architects. Completed 1997. Cost pounds 17m.

Where to see it: Stratford Regional Station, London E15.

RIVERSIDE APARTMENTS & STUDIOS (CHELSEA REACH)

This unfussy concrete-and-glass construction, right on the river between Albert Bridge and Battersea Bridge, offers a Bohemian style of living that most Londoners only dream of. Offices, apartments, studios and even a library occupy this immaculate box of a building, with furniture hand- picked by the architect. And there can be no better recommendation for the glass-fronted luxury apartments than the fact that the Foster himself lives and works here.

Vital statistics: Foster Associates. Completed 1990. Cost undisclosed.

Where to see it: 22 Hester Road, London SW11.

LIVERPOOL TATE GALLERY REDEVELOPMENT

Originally part of the restoration of Liverpool's docks in the 1980s, this extravagant refurbishment of the sugar mogul's northern project has converted the top floor into an impressive retail space. The new Liverpool Tate uses 30 per cent more of the original building, and houses key works from the National Collection of Modern Art. "The new galleries have a spaciousness, traffic flow and a quality of light that is 21st century, allowing each art lover an interface," says Nonie Niesewand.

Vital statistics: Stirling Wilford Architects. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 7m.

Where to see it: Albert Dock, Liverpool (0151-709 3223); Tues-Sun 10am- 6pm. Admission free.

1 POULTRY

This is the site that the famous property developer Lord Palumbo tried to rebuild in 1968, when he invited the great modernist Mies van der Rohe to create a tower and plaza there. After years of legal wrangling, Palumbo's building, known simply as "Poultry" after its medieval street, was finally completed this year and now contains shop and office space. Featuring pink-and-brown stonework punctuated by massive, carved Egyptian cornices, "this is Licorice Allsorts at the heart of capitalism", says Paul Finch. Don't miss the curious beak-like tower at the prow.

Vital statistics: Stirling Wilford Architects. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 32.4m.

Where to see it: 1 Poultry, London EC2. NATIONAL GLASS CENTRE

This giant icicle was built over a former shipyard to celebrate the manufacture, design and role of glass, and includes exhibitions, demonstrations and shops. The Glass Centre's thrill factor lies in its roof which, made of thick glazed panels, is designed to be walked upon. The rest of the building reflects its industrial roots, with stone floors and stainless- steel vents and ducts running along the galleries and ground-floor studios. "Locals take their buggies, mountain bikes and walking frames up there for the view," says Nonie Niesewand.

Vital statistics: Gollifer Associates. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 7m.

Where to see it: Liberty Way, Sunderland (0191-515 5555); open daily 10am-5pm. Admission pounds 3.50, conc pounds 2.

EMBANKMENT PLACE, CHARING CROSS

Occupying 32,000 square metres of space above Charing Cross station, this office building's nine storeys are magnificently suspended above the tracks, completely insulated from the hubbub below. During construction, nine pairs of columns sprouted out of the station, though few would have been aware of what was going on overhead. Doric columns and pale-green metalwork gives the construction a tongue-in-cheek air of grandeur.

Vital statistics: Terry Farrell & Co. Completed 1990. Cost pounds 100m.

Where to see it: Villiers Street, London WC2. The best view is from the south side of Waterloo Bridge.

LUDGATE

Conceived during the late 1980s, this imposing office space - a modern landmark in the City of London - was one of the few successful cost-cutting exercises of the last recession, benefiting from the Nineties fashion for function over fuss. Decoration is sparing, while the steel and aluminium mirrored facade is perfectly symmetrical. A revolutionary feature comes in the shape of springs that absorb the rattling and rumbling of the London Underground below.

Vital statistics: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Completed 1992. Cost pounds 31m.

Where to see it: 1 Ludgate Place, London EC4.

INLAND REVENUE BUILDING

"Putting a good face on our tax inspectors, Michael Hopkins gave the Inland Revenue at Nottingham his easy, familiar brand of open-faced modernism," says Nonie Niesewand. Situated near the city centre, this simple building comprises three- and four-storey office blocks, enclosing expansive gardens and affording picture-postcard views of Nottingham Castle. Glistening cylindrical stair towers signal the entrance with exposed steel trusses - a dramatically racy gesture for such a staid client.

Vital statistics: Michael Hopkins & Partners. Completed 1995. Cost pounds 50m.

Where to see it: the Inland Revenue Building is in Nottingham.

THE ARCHAEOLINK VISITORS CENTRE

This archaeological and architectural landmark combines energy-saving technology with cutting-edge designs. It uses a radical "earth-sheltering" device where the underground part of the building gathers heat by solar power through its glazed walls and then re-releases it in a six-month heat/cool cycle to warm the building in the winter and cool it again the summer. Half buried underground, the building is a constant reminder of its function - as a centre for archaeology.

Vital statistics: Edward Cullinan Architects. Completed 1997. Cost pounds 2.45m.

Where to see it: Berry Hill, Dyne Aberdeenshire (01464 851500); open daily 10am-5pm. Admission pounds 3.90.

THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM'S EARTH GALLERIES

Over the last decade the dusty glass cases and long, echoing corridors of The Natural History Museum have been removed to make way for cutting- edge interactive displays and stunning architect-designed spaces. A long escalator takes visitors up into the epicentre of the spinning globe and out into four polished, sci-fi exhibition galleries made out of glass, limestone, terracotta and plaster. Don't miss the idiot-friendly gadgets.

Vital statistics: Pawson Williams Architects. Completed 1996. Cost pounds 12m.

Where to see it: Cromwell Rd, SW7 (0171-938 9123); open Mon-Sat 10am- 6pm, Sun 11am-6pm. Admission pounds 6.50, conc pounds 3.20.

BRITISH AIRWAYS HQ, SLOUGH

"A great glass glacier by functionalist Norwegian architect Niels Torp," says Nonie Niesewand. This eccentric creation is arranged rather like a 19th-century prison with wings off a tall, balconied central spine and it is designed to operate like a mini city. As a British Airways "business centre", it has shops, a cafe and car parking for its employees, and offers an open-planned, tree-lined vista with each block named after a continent.

Vital statistics: Renton, Howard, Wood and Levin Architects. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 200m.

Where to see it: Waterside, Harmonsworth, Slough.

SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE

A reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe of 1599 for which many of Shakespeare's plays were written. This open-air theatre holds 1,600, with three galleries of seating and an open area in the middle for "groundlings", a polite term for the rabble who used to lob vegetables in days of old. The theatre forms part of a wider complex celebrating the Bard that includes a restaurant, a gallery space and an education centre.

Vital statistics: Theo Crosby Architects. Completed 1997. Cost pounds 30m.

Where to see it: New Globe Walk, Bankside, Southwark SE1 (0171-9021500); open daily 10am-5pm. Ring for details of evening performances.

COMPTON VERNEY ART GALLERY

Peter Moores, the Littlewoods multi-millionaire, realised his dream this year to make his collection of art public, with the completion of the gallery at this 18th-century stately home. The first phase of the refurbishment comprises a new wing that is almost invisible on the lake approach and comes into view on the garden front, where bare stone walls and flat roofs are a counterpoint to the arched windows and gables of the old house. Old and new are joined by glass.

Vital statistics: Stanton Williams Architects. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 5.5m.

Where to see it: Compton Verney, Warwickshire (01926 641777); open daily 10am-5pm. Admission pounds 1.

MILLENNIUM DOME

Perhaps the most-maligned concept in the history of architecture, Peter Mandelson's brainchild might con you into thinking that the aliens have finally landed. The giant white shell rests on the edge of the Greenwich Peninsula, pegged like a tent with 12 masts and "curved sections that can be segmented like a Terry's chocolate orange," according to Nonie Niesewand. It may not be finished, but it is already a spectacular sight and well worth a look.

Vital statistics: Richard Rogers Partnership. Opening 1999. Cost: still to be counted.

Where to see it: Greenwich Peninsula, London E14; best view is from West India Quay.

LIVERPOOL STREET STATION

The extensive refurbishment of Liverpool Street involved extending a giant section of the roof span. While the cast-iron acanthus-leaf details have been restored to their former glory, there are a multitude of new inventions, including the raised, covered walkway that houses all the shops. There are also two new entrances - one on Bishopsgate, a bizarre composition of a small square covered by a shopping mall-type canopy flanked by two camp towers.

Vital statistics: Architecture and Design Group, British Rail Board. Completed 1991. Cost pounds 120m.

Where to see it: Liverpool St, London EC2; open 24 hours.

BUS TERMINAL, GREENWICH

Situated on the Greenwich Peninsula, this bus and train interchange promises to deal with the influx of visitors to Mandelson's Dome, and relieve central London of a significant proportion of its transport difficulties. The spectacular curved roof is shaped like an outstretched bird's wing; made of glittering aluminium and speckled with tiny triangular roof lights, it hogs the limelight, while the uncluttered ground-level design is composed to orientate customers.

Vital statistics: Norman Foster & Partners. Opening 1999. Cost pounds 15m.

Where to see it: hardly visible until it opens to the public next year in time for the Millennium celebrations.

MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND

"This project was nearly abandoned after Prince Charles intervened, but the trustees told him where to go," says Lucy Musgrave. Made from Scottish sandstone, this light and spacious creation is a successful fusion of the old and the new. The focus was clearly on light when the building was designed: giant floor- to-ceiling windows make this less like a traditional museum and more like a greenhouse.

Vital statistics: Benson & Forsyth. Completed 1998. Cost pounds 54m.

Where to see it: Chambers Street, Edinburgh (0131 225 7534); open Mon- Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12noon-5pm. Admission pounds 3.

IKON GALLERY, BIRMINGHAM

A converted Victorian school, this much-anticipated gallery is another example of how new materials can enhance old. A pair of giant, solid-oak doors recall its 19th-century antecedents, while a new tower has been built to replicate the old one that was demolished in the 1960s. New, modern-style towers have been added on each of the side elevations to provide a new staircase and lifts, one tower in glass and steel and the other in undulating lead.

Vital statistics: Levitt Bernstein Architects. Opened 1998. Cost pounds 4.5m.

Where to see it: 1 Oozells Sq, Brindley Place, Birmingham (0121-248 0708); open Mon-Fri 11am-7pm; Sat & Sun 11am-5pm. 42:1 CANADA SQUARE

This landmark obelisk forms the central focus of the huge Docklands development. According to Paul Finch, the tower is "Docklands' answer to Cleopatra's needle". It was designed to imitate American skyscrapers and, the first to be clad top-to-toe in stainless steel, was originally to have had 55 floors. But planners intervened and forced the architects to reduce it to 50, making way for overhead traffic going to and from the nearby City Airport. The tower is now equipped with a flashing beacon to steer air traffic away.

Vital statistics: Cesar Pelli. Opened 1990. Cost pounds 500m.

Where to see it: 1 Canada Square, London E14; the tower is visible throughout much of south-east England, though only the foyer is open to the public.

THE LISSON GALLERY, LONDON

This minimalist gallery houses work by the leading lights in British art. "A beautiful example of very exacting minimalism, with powerful, calm and wonderfully lit spaces," says Lucy Musgrave. Tucked away off the Edgware Rd, it has a facade built to accommodate odd-shaped works of art, being equipped with translucent, insulating glass panels that slide away like giant patio doors to open up the whole front. The upper storey of flats is afforded more privacy by its sheer concrete facades.

Vital statistics: Tony Fretton Architects. Completed 1990. Cost pounds 500,000.

Where to see it: 52 Bell Street, London NW1 (0171-724 2739); open Mon- Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-1pm.

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