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The Spire, Dublin Ian Ritchie Architects Client: Dublin City Council (city architect Jim Barrett Contractor: Siac Radley Joint Venture Contract value: £3.07 million Dublin's new spire is visible across the city, an impossibly slender 120m high shaft of stainless steel. Close up, you discover that it is located at an important Dublin crossroads - the junction of Henry Street, North Earl Street and O'Connell Street. The spire was originally the winning design in a1998 international competition for a millennium tower to replace the 1808 Nelson's Pillar, blown up by the IRA in 1966. Following a successful high court challenge, the design had to go through the bureaucratic hoops and the Millennium was long gone when the spire was completed.

The conical spire is of rolled stainless-steel plate, shot-peened to give a reflecting surface. The cone is 3m in diameter at the bottom, where it is surrounded by a 7m diameter base of Kilkenny black marble. The cone sits on reinforced concrete piles that go down to the bedrock. The top 500mm of the structure is in cast optical glass, with the 12m below that perforated. At night, internal lights shine through the perforations and the glass capping, creating the impression that the tip of the tower glows. There is also an aircraft warning light system at the very top.

The judges said: 'The Spire is first visible across the Dublin skyline as an object of extreme slenderness whose scale is impossible to guess.

Once you know what you are looking at, the anticipation of seeing how this implausibly slender needle hits the ground begins to grow.' And in a wry reference to the vicissitudes of the design's construction, they added: 'The apparent effortlessness of The Spire belies the long and difficult business of bringing it into being.' There were the predictable enough 'Is it architecture or a monument or engineering?' objections and Ritchie himself has said that 'the difference between architecture and sculpture is that the former has functioning WCs?I see it as a 21st-century interpretation of standing stones and obelisks'. But in the end the judges were confident that it was a regular congregant in that broad church which is architecture.

Phoenix Initiative, Coventry MacCormac Jamieson Prichard Client: Coventry City Council Structural engineers: Babtie, Dewhurst Macfarlane, Whitbybird & Partners Contractors: Balfour Beatty, Butterley Construction Contract value: £50 million This masterplan for public spaces for the formerly run-down Cathedral Quarter of Coventry is part of a general city rejuvenation programme begun in the late 1990s when MacCormac Jamieson Prichard was commissioned to rejuvenate 3ha of the city centre. It has involved the rerouting of roads and footpaths, the creation of five new landscaped spaces, eight new public art works, a visitor interpretation centre, an 84 apartment development plus 300m 2 of retail facilities, accommodation for cathedral staff and a new entrance for Coventry's motor museum. The architect devised a path, the Phoenix Trail, which starts at the ruins of the mediaeval cathedral, destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, and takes visitors on a walk 'of 100 years through gardens and squares' to the Whittle Arch, named after the inventor of the British jet engine. The gardens include Priory Gardens, based on excavations of the 14th century priory on the site, with artworks by Chris Brown. The next event is a set of sound posts by David Ward in the middle of the priory cloister, to one side of which is a restored mid-19thcentury ribbon factory, now converted into a block of flats. Then comes Priory Place and its water feature by Susanna Heron, with cathedral accommodation by the masterplanner and, down beside it, another water feature by Rummey Design. The path leads to Millennium Place, with its twin Whittle arches and a number of other art works by Francoise Schein and Jochen Gerz. A glass bridge flies over the listed Lady Herbert's Garden and a remnant of the old city wall and lands in the new Garden of International Friendship by Rummey Design.

The judges said: 'What impressed the jury was how the scheme manages to forge visible and physical connections between significant site levels, making legible the various superimposed layers of Coventry's religious history, and yet directly addressing the difficult urban issue of how to live in a retail-oriented post-industrial culture. The housing, retail and newly defined open public realm is remarkable in that it privileges urban space rather than object-buildings, a task left to the variously prominent artist/architect/engineer collaborations. Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of the design is that it does not rely on one key historical element, or new intervention, as a single reference point to understanding the whole scheme. The visitor is aware of a synthesis of integrated urban elements: historical, modern, public, semipublic, private, religious, secular. These complex and sometimes conflicting requirements are revealed and integrated within an accessible and well-constructed civic environment of stone, steel, glass and water.'

Imperial War Museum North, Manchester Studio Daniel Libeskind Client: Trustees - Imperial War Museum North Structural engineer: Arup Contractor: Sir Robert McAlpine Contract value: £19.7 million On the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, opposite the new Salford Lowry Centre, the Imperial War Museum North is said by the architect Daniel Libeskind to be 'emblematic of the earth shattered by conflict'. For this is a symbolic building whose three main forms, known as 'shards' represent earth, water and air - the arenas of human conflict (and the three services). The museum's trustees needed to house collections that had hitherto remained unexhibited - and to bring visitors to the North to see them. At the same time they wanted an iconic building, 'a statement that people would get excited about'. And this, the first of Libeskind's British buildings, has achieved just that. Its large fragment forms are clad in profiled aluminium, whose grey consistency refers to the grey horror of war.

The open 55m high 'air' shard forms the main entrance, with a viewing platform halfway up providing views over Manchester. The 'water' shard, enclosing the restaurant, overlooks the Manchester Ship Canal - and the Lowry opposite. The 'earth' shard contains the main public areas of the museum. Its floors are curved to reflect the curvature of the earth and are designed to throw visitors off-balance, to contribute to the sense of unease, in the words of the director, Jim Forrester, to 'catapult people into an emotional experience - to give people a real sense of empathy with those in war and conflict'.

The judges said: 'The most remarkable achievement of the design is the ease with which one moves or flows around this apparently jarring and jagged series of shapes. For example, the exit from the restaurant, which is one of the best spaces in the building, is so effortless in the way it drops you unexpectedly into the entrance lobby aiming for the exit. Generally there are no pinch points despite complete control for security purposes. The main spaces - the main hall, the temporary exhibition gallery and the restaurant - are all cathedral-like spaces with hard surfaces and yet the acoustics were not unpleasant. The daylight in the restaurant provides welcome relief as do the calm, day-lit education rooms.'

The Business Academy, Bexley, London Foster and Partners Contract value: £31 million This new school is one of the new specialist academies which, with private sponsorship, replace existing low-achievement schools - in this case a 1960s concrete bunker serving the south-east London overspill estates of Thamesmead and Erith. The judges were told that the group of students who had trashed their previous classroom arrived at this new school voluntarily wearing suits. This design by Foster and Partners is a simple, rapidly built, High-Tech shed that can be extended to accommodate future community use out of school hours. Externally, it is a big three-storey box whose main glass elevations, which face east and west, are protected from the low-lying sun by adjustable vertical louvres. Inside, the school is arranged around three top-lit atria, the middle of which is the entrance hall with staircases leading up to the two levels above. The classrooms have three sides but are open to the atria, so that everyone can see what is going on in an attempt to encourage a bright learning environment. Classrooms look more like offices, with lessons being taught using touch-screen whiteboards and flat-screen displays. The 1,350 students, ranging in age from 11 to 18, have email accounts. Registration is electronic and the furniture is stylish. Students will take the International Baccalaureate, which involves six subjects, including English, science and a modern language. Since moving to this building, the proportion of children at the school achieving five good grades at GCSE has risen dramatically from 6 per cent to 36 per cent.

The judges said: 'It is a ruthlessly simple box with east and west facades protected by moveable vertical louvres - a neat solution to an otherwise unfavourable classroom orientation. Inside, this is about as open plan as a school could get. Most of the classrooms are more like alcoves than rooms, and are open to two interconnecting atria. Early reports suggest that teachers and students have responded well to this extreme form of open plan. The problems of previous hybrid school models, that combined closed classrooms and open study areas, are not in evidence here. Even the classrooms with walls, such as the science laboratories, are predominantly glazed and this contributes further to the sense of openness and community.'

Kunsthaus, Graz, Austria Peter Cook and Colin Fournier Structural engineer: Bollinger & Grohmann, Frankfurt Contractor: SFL GmbH Contract value:

.40m The Austrian town of Graz has already started to use the blue biomorphic blob, its new Kunsthaus, as a major feature in its tourist literature.

Designed by former Archigram member Peter Cook, and an old Archigram associate, Colin Fournier, the building is both at the cutting edge of contemporary design and exactly what you might have expected an Archigram building to look like. Externally it has a blue translucent skin - a rainscreen made up of double-curvature acrylic panels. The 'roof ' of the building is studded with three rows of truncated teapot spoutlike nozzles. The curving sides of the building have the important secondary function of a low-resolution display billboard using nearly a thousand electronically controlled fluorescent lighting rings fixed behind the external carapace. This was designed by two former students at the Bartlett, where Cook and Fournier are professors. The ground floor is an open public space with a reception area, a lecture space and a cafÚ all interconnected. A 40m inclined travelator takes you up into the stark concrete boxes of galleries and another takes you to the top gallery, where the nozzles are lined with spirals of fluorescent light, a compromise due to budget constraints. The topmost level above, the Needle, is accessed via stairs and this long narrow gallery takes visitors to the old refurbished building next door, the 1847 Eiserne Haus, notable for its cast-iron facade which is now part of the Kunsthaus.

The judges said: 'What is unexpected from the outside is how gentle the building is to Graz and its inhabitants. While the formally driven obsessions of much contemporary architecture result in a certain abstraction, and thus contextual discomfort, the Kunsthaus settles down into its site as if it belongs there. This is achieved not just through its carefully judged scale in relation to the surrounding buildings and landscape, but also through the way in which the building summons up countless cultural references - onion domes, strange beasties, Austrian trams, rooftop worlds, biomorphic structures - all to be shared with passers-by. The effect is extraordinary, with groups of tourists standing outside, pointing and talking, always with smiles on their faces. The effect is continued at night when the curved facade is animated by a set of pulsing lights, softly spelling out words or displaying digital art.'

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