Tony Blair's controversial academies programme received a boost last night when one of the schools was named as the best new public building in the country.
The City of London Academy was awarded the Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award 2006 for its innovative design and for being completed on time and on budget.
The comprehensive school in Bermondsey, south London, designed by the architects Studio E, beat 13 rivals to clinch the prestigious prize - the first new school to do so in the six-year history of the award. Previous winners include Tate Modern in 2001 and Jubilee Library in Brighton last year.
The award will give a welcome boost to the academies programme, which has been condemned both for design flaws in its buildings and for massive overspending.
Even some of the most prestigious new academies have come under fire. The Bexley Business academy, designed by Lord Foster, included impractical open-sided classrooms, and, in north London, the Capital City Academy, also designed by Foster, was built without a staffroom, and had to have its atrium remodelled. However, the City of London Academy was last night praised for its use of an extremely difficult site.
Andrzej Kuszell of Studio E architects said: "All the people who visited the site felt it was probably the most challenging site in the academies programme."
The land was cut in two by a raised road viaduct with a piece of wasteland on one side where the school building was built and a park on the other which houses the sports fields and facilities.
Opened by the Prime Minister in September 2005, the academy, which is sponsored by the City of London Corporation, has proved hugely popular.