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'Significant and beautiful' Laban lands Stirling Prize

The wow factor won the day at the 2003 Stirling Prize when Herzog & de Meuron's Laban centre danced away with architecture's top honour.

The Swiss practice clinched the £20,000 prize - awarded in association with the AJ - at the ceremony in Bristol, televised on Channel 4 on Sunday evening.

The £14.4 million Deptford dance centre, favourite with both the bookies and the critics, outshone both Foster and Partners' monumental Great Court and Bill Dunster Architects' essay in sustainability at BedZED.

The judges - RIBA president George Ferguson, double past winner Chris Wilkinson, singer Justine Frischmann, novelist Julian Barnes and AJ editor Isabel Allen - hailed Laban a 'significant and beautiful new landmark' and an 'extraordinarily fine building that raises the expectations of architecture'.

Compere Piers Gough, after issuing the citation, broke from his script to acclaim 'this glimpse of the future that's landed here in London, this Modernist rococo - completely and utterly beautiful!' And a 'very emotional' Pierre de Meuron paid tribute to his visionary client.

Disappointed on the night, however, was Bill Dunster, whose BedZED housing scheme was joint second favourite to win. Dunster told the AJ the judges had missed a vital opportunity to send out a signal that architects were serious about tackling sustainability and quality of life issues for ordinary people. 'The judges didn't rate those ideas as an important cultural priority, ' he said. By holding up Laban as the most significant project of the year they 'made it easier for others to write off architects as people who do spectacular but irrelevant projects', he added.

The people's favourite, Foster and Partners' Great Court project at the British Museum, also lost out. The £100 million courtyard enclosure topped Radio 4's listeners' poll, but was less popular with the critics. Partner in charge of the project Spencer de Grey said he was disappointed the practice, which won in 1998 with Duxford Air Force museum, had failed to win again, but he welcomed the 'excellent news' that the prize has been won by an architect from outside the UK.

Also unsuccessful were Sutherland Hussey's £95,000 ferry terminal in the Inner Hebrides, Eric Parry's £26 million office development at Finsbury Square, London, and Ian Ritchie's Theatre Royal Production Centre in Plymouth.

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