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Runners & riders

astragal

This coming Saturday's Stirling Prize festivities begin with the serious business of deciding on the winner. Although the seven shortlisted schemes have been visited, the final judging takes place on the day. The judges will be sitting down in a room in the British Museum at 3pm to conclude their deliberations, chaired by Marco Goldschmied. The other judges are: Janet Street-Porter, who will act as compere for the awards evening; Alice Rawsthorn (director of the Design Museum); last year's winner Will Alsop; and the AJ's Paul Finch. Will there be an easy meeting of minds over the winner?

Not necessarily. Each has definite merits and represents a different aspect of architecture. In no particular order, the British Embassy, Berlin, by Michael Wilford responds for the first time to the needs and role of a contemporary embassy, a semipublic flagship representing the country as a whole, not just its politicians and diplomats. On a completely different scale is the house in Highgate by Eldridge & Smerin, a highly sophisticated addition to a '50s house by Leonard Manasseh, itself built on part of a Victorian house. Slightly larger in scale is the surgery in Hammersmith by Guy Greenfield, which responds beautifully to its traffic-surrounded site with a curved rendered wall sequence.

The National Portrait Gallery is a brilliant piece of lateral thinking by Dixon Jones which makes space out of almost nothing, and does it highly successfully. The Magna Centre in Rotherham, by Wilkinson Eyre, exploiting a redundant steelworks to the full with a wonderful series of spaces and exhibits (the RIBA Yorkshire Region held a successful awards evening there last week). The Nicholas Grimshaw Eden Centre is a phenomenon - the Millennium Biome has transformed a redundant chalk pit to produce a unique experience. Last but not least, Michael Hopkins' Westminster Underground Station and Portcullis House provide a new showcase for architecture and engineering. I note that Portcullis is our MPs' favourite new building, and that it attracted more visitors on Open House weekend than any other building, ever. In short, all bets are off. An hour-long programme on the awards and judging is on Channel 4 on Sunday, starting at 8pm.

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