Wilkinson Eyre has scooped the 2002 Stirling Prize with its 'blinking' Gateshead Millennium Bridge - the second time the practice has landed the prize.
The £17.7 million project, the bookies' favourite, won by three votes to two, beating second favourite Edward Cullinan Architects' Downland Gridshell.
The historic double win follows Wilkinson Eyre's triumph last year with Magna Centre when it saw off favourite Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners' Eden Project.
Wilkinson Eyre received the £20,000 prize money on Saturday at a televised ceremony at Baltic - within view of its own Gateshead icon.
RIBA president Paul Hyett said the bridge was a 'fantastic project, that has done a wonderful service to that community'. And he laughed off suggestions that the location of the ceremony and choice of winner were in any way connected.
AJ editorial director and Stirling judge Paul Finch praised the bridge for its 'wow factor' and its role in Gateshead's regeneration. 'It is a unique solution that won hands down, ' he said.
A delighted Jim Eyre, the lead partner on the project - engineered by Gifford and Partners - promised to spend the winnings on a party. Dismissing suggestions the practice could be in the running for a third straight win next year, he said: 'It takes a certain type of project to be a Stirling winner.We were lucky to have two such projects.'
The bridge beat off competition from a strong shortlist for this year's Stirling Prize, run in association with the AJ, that comprised Edward Cullinan Architects' Downland Gridshell; BDP's Hampden Gurney School; Malcolm Fraser's Dance Base; The Millennium Wing of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, by Benson and Forsyth; Lloyd's Register of Shipping by the Richard Rogers Partnership; and Ernsting's Service Centre in Germany by David Chipperfield Architects.
Disappointed Robin Nicholson suggested it would be timely for partner Edward Cullinan to be now considered for the RIBA Gold Medal.
The judges said of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge:
'The idea is eminently simple: a pair of arches - one is the deck, the other supports the deck.The whole bridge tilts, undergoing a metamorphosis into a grand arch, in an operation that evokes the slow opening of a huge eye.The engineering challenge is immense, the solution innovative, bold and engaging.'
'Every aspect of the bridge, from conception and detail through to execution, is simple and incredibly elegant.'
'The RIBA Stirling Prize judges thought Wilkinson Eyre's was the obvious solution: it was just that no one had ever thought of it before. It is a new icon. It is the one new piece of architecture that will be remembered by people this year.'
The winners of the RIBA Special Awards were also announced at the ceremony:
Barnhouse in Highgate by Sutherland Hussey Architects won The AJ First Building Award in association with Robin Ellis Design Build, for the best example of a first stand-alone building by a British architect practising within the EU (see box, page 5).
The Stirling Tolbooth by Richard Murphy Architects and Simpson & Brown won The Crown Estate Conservation Award, for the best work of conservation which demonstrates successful restoration and/or adaptation of an architecturally significant building.
Dance Base by Malcolm Fraser Architects won The ADAPT Trust Access Award, for excellence in accessibility, demonstrating that good design automatically includes good access facilities for people of all abilities.
Urban Splash won The RIBA Client of the Year Award in association with the Arts Council of England, which rewards the role a good client plays in the creation of fine architecture.
The Cardboard Building at Westborough Primary School by Cottrell + Vermeulen won two special RIBA Awards: The Stephen Lawrence Prize for the best example of a building with a construction budget of less than £200,000 and The RIBA Journal Sustainability Award, for the building which demonstrates most elegantly and durably the principles of sustainable architecture.