Why we shouldn't be happy about the Stirling Prize

Of course we’re unlikely to enjoy the results of an award for new architecture given those standards of new architecture. There’s far too much still of the machines for living than there is of desirable homes. Still, perhaps this year’s winner of the Stirling Prize is different?

One hundred years since the 1919 Addison Act paved the way for the country’s programme of mass council housing, the prize for the best new building in the UK has been awarded to one of the first new council housing projects in a generation.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich represents what has become a rare breed: streets of terraced homes built directly by the council, rented with secure tenancies at fixed social rents. And it’s an architectural marvel, too.

This ticks so many fashionable boxes. Council owned and built! Social rent! Secure! Passivhaus even!

And yet, and yet. We Britons live in some of the smallest dwellings in Europe:

US home size has fallen a little since the recession, to 201 m2 (2,164 ft2) in 2009. UK house size is relatively small at 76 m2 (818 ft2) while Canadian houses are quite big at 181 m2 (1,948 ft2).

We don’t have a shortage of land to build upon whatever people say. Only 3% of the country has housing on it and that includes the gardens.

The problem that we see:

Internal area 8,056 m²

That’s for 105 dwellings. Yes, some of them are flats and others are houses. And yet that is still only that 80 square metres or so for each dwelling.

That is, we’re giving architectural prizes now to those who cram the poor into hovels. We can’t help but think that this isn’t the way to be doing it. Free the planning system so that houses able to swing that proverbial cat can actually be built….