SCOTLAND'S most controversial building, the £431m Parliament, received the highest accolade in British architecture last night when it was named as the winner of the Stirling Prize.
Enric Miralles' futuristic design, which the late Spanish architect famously based on upturned boats, beat five other outstanding examples of British architecture.
In a ceremony at the Royal Museum of Scotland, the Parliament was praised by judges for its "complexity", "excellence in design" and "construction".
Handing over a 20,000 cheque to the Parliament's designers EMBT/RMJM, the judges - chaired by Jack Pringle, president of the Royal Institute of British Architecture - said it was "a remarkable architectural statement".
The judges praised the building for its "enormous impact", not only on the visitors but the MSPs who work there. They highlighted its "series of extraordinary spaces" and "their changing effects".
Miralles was singled out for his "extraordinary architectural ambition", "design vision" and attention to detail.
The judging panel said: "At the outset, Miralles made a major contribution in leading the clients towards a proper understanding of their needs and the final formulation of the role and function of the building.
"Further, through his awareness of the problems and knowledge of the subject, the architect has formulated the philosophy of the role of the Parliament and reflected it in his architectural interpretation.
"The building is a statement of sparkling excellence. On the Memory Wall one of the statements reads: 'Say little and say it well.' This building is definitely saying a lot rather than little, but it definitely says it well."
The award came despite the fact that the building is still mired in delays because of 2,000 faults. Earlier this year it emerged that problems which needed to be fixed include leaking windows, jamming doors, peeling plaster and wall panels that keep falling off.
Last night Peter Wilson, the director of the Manifesto Foundation for Architecture at Napier University in Edinburgh, said the decision showed that the architectural community was very far removed from public opinion.
Wilson said: "Given that the award was in Scotland, it was predictable that the Parliament would win, as over the last few years they have tended to host the prize in places where the local project has won.
"For architectural judges based in London it has to be seen as an important project, but beyond that it shows that the architectural profession is very distanced from the public in so far as that they are very prepared to say that it doesn't matter what a building costs, or how long it takes to build. That is wrong."
Despite the controversy surrounding the Parliament, its defenders say that it overcame enormous hurdles on its road to completion; not least the death of its chief architect.
They argue that it is a building that will still be talked about in 100 years. Certainly it has a surprising record in industry competitions. In April it was awarded Spain's greatest architectural prize: the Manuel de la Dehesa award. A month earlier it picked up the Edinburgh Architectural Association's centenary medal.
And to win the 10th Stirling Prize it fought off prestigious competition. The 2005 shortlist contained a children's centre in Harlesden, north-west London; a library in Brighton; the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey; a gallery in Cork, Ireland; and the BMW building in Leipzig, Germany.
The Fawood Children's Centre in Harlesden is a nursery school and a unit for children with special needs, and also provides a space for adult education. The judges said they were bemused, amused and delighted by the three-storey project made from refurbished sea containers.
The 8m Jubilee Library in Brighton was described as a "simple, energy-efficient building with a good measure of style, as befits this swaggering seaside city". It has a glass facade which "dissolves at night to expose the powerful library interior".
The McLaren Technology Centre, which houses production facilities for the company's Formula One cars, as well as design studios and laboratories, has a curved glazed lakeside facade. The judges said: "Every detail has been considered, from the structural glazing to bolt head and artwork. Many areas are breathtaking and very impressive, and even the more soulless parts are enlivened by colourful glass installations."
The Lewis Glucksman Gallery, part of the University College in Cork, is unlike a conventional gallery because its walls contain bends.
The judges credited Zaha Hadid's BMW Central Building with bringing factory workers and office workers together "not just in the same building, but in a shared experience of making vehicles".
The Stirling Prize is awarded annually to the architects of the building which has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year.
Previous winners include London's St Mary Axe, known as "the erotic gherkin"; the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Laban Dance Centre in Deptford, south-east London.