A south London primary school has been pitted against the Treasury, Manchester City's new football stadium and a motorway junction scheme to scoop the Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award.
The pound;5 million Jubilee primary, in Tulse Hill, is among 14 projects short-listed for the accolade.
The 420-pupil school which opened last September, is a result of the merger of three primaries and includes a wing for profoundly deaf children.
Surrounded by the low-rise brick flats of the Tulse Hill estate, teachers say the blue and white structure looks more like a modern art gallery than a school.
The entrance hall has a two-storey glass wall and the reception staff sit behind a white translucent desk embedded with pink neon lights.
Jan Horne, the headteacher, said: "It is lovely to have the chance to work in a new building. It looks great. You see people have a double take because it is so different from the surrounding estate. It is spacious and has none of the smells you associate with old schools.
"The classrooms are a very generous size and the pupils have gelled together well. I think the building gives the community's children a great start in education."
Acoustic panels minimise echoes and sedum grass on the roof helps to control the temperatures. The work surfaces have been made out of recycled plastic.
The design was drawn up after the borough of Lambeth controversially decided to close Brockwell, Effra and Grove House schools and build the flagship replacement on the Brockwell site.
Jubilee's nomination for the design award is in part due to the involvement of the local community in the planning process, which has been praised by the Arts Council. When announcing the shortlist the judges said that Jubilee was "a refreshing approach to school design that celebrates life and learning".
Ms Horne, a teacher for 28 years who moved from North Lakes school in Penrith to take up the post, said there had been some teething problems.
Leaks in the roof needed repairing and she is still waiting for promised playground furniture.
Paul Monaghan, of architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, said: "The school was designed to be bright and full of space. All the classrooms are south-facing. Some of the children have hearing difficulties, so many of the classrooms are lined with acoustic panels to cut echoes and enhance sound clarity."
The third Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award recognises excellence in design quality and procurement practices on publicly funded schemes.
When the short-listed projects were announced last week, Tony Blair said:
"These should act as an inspiration to all public-sector clients. I'd like to see every new public building meeting the same high standards."
The award is sponsored by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the Office of Government Commerce. The winner will be announced on October 22.