Goldsmith Street, a publicly funded development in the U.K. city of Norwich, is a “modest masterpiece,” has won the RIBA Stirling Prize

Developments like Goldsmith Street still capture the public imagination because many British people remember a time when public housing was built both in large quantities and (often) to high standards1. While Britain has had its public housing disasters, the idea of state-built housing doesn’t have quite the shadow over it that exists in the U.S., cast by Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini-GreenMore than 40 percent of Britons lived in public housing in the 1970s, before Margaret Thatcher decimated the sector in the 1980s. So many people remember a time when living in well-built but cheap housing was something normal for those on lower incomes.

  • 1. Meanwhile, the targets handed out to private developers that require them to produce a number of homes at sub-market rates have a habit of being diluted with impunity. And often, the sub-market homes end up being rented out at rates still beyond the pockets of many people they are intended to benefit. Norwich’s scheme avoided this pitfall by committing to all homes being rented at a subsidized rate not directly pegged to market prices, an approach that still ultimately recoups construction costs, but more slowly. Even here, however, the approach was made possible partly by funds gained by the council from selling off public housing elsewhere.