Our surroundings have always reflected the best – and the worst – of ourselves and the societies we live in. In Victorian times, you could see that age's ambition, it's vaulting achievements and its emphasis on improving society etched clearly in the blue prints of their public buildings.
Their vision and commitment to quality means that we are still using – and admiring – many of their town halls, schools and railway stations.
By the same token, post-war Britain was in such a rush to rebuild that in some ways, it cut corners. The emphasis was placed too much on functionality over form. Ugly council estates, poorly-planned schools, and badly-designed hospitals sprang up all over the place.
So when John Betjeman wrote those immortal lines beckoning friendly bombs to "fall on Slough, because it’s not fit for humans now", he struck a chord with many of us. And he also exposed the real problem with poor architectural design: it forgets that buildings are designed to be used by people.
And good design shouldn't just be confined to high-profile buildings in big cities. It should be an integral part of every public building, no matter how modest its scale or purpose.
Because while investing in good design typically adds a paltry 1% to the cost of a building over its lifetime, the cost of bad design is often incalculable.
That's why I have been given the job of raising architectural design standards across the board within Government, as the new Government Design Champion. In part, that means working closely with CABE to encourage the public to expect good design as the norm, not the exception.
I will be pushing for hospitals that don't just house patients, but help to lift their spirits; for schools that inspire their pupils to love being in a learning environment; and for government buildings that act as a bellwether for what’s best in our society.
Buildings that welcome and include. Buildings that excite and energise. Buildings that stand as a testament to our achievements today, and our hopes for tomorrow.
And with the London Olympics just a few short years away, we have a wonderful opportunity to showcase our architectural design and construction industries, by creating iconic buildings that successfully combine beautiful form with practical purpose.
And as tonight's contenders show, there are already a great many buildings in the UK that already fit that description.
Each of the projects you mentioned is very different. But in their own way, each of these projects has managed to make its mark, and make a real difference to its community
When the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award was first created five year's ago, it underscored the importance of having public buildings that were well designed. But better public building goes far beyond appearances.
It's about having buildings that provide genuine value-for-money over their lifetime; that respect and enhance their location, environment and community; and that transform the way people see their societies, and ultimately, themselves.
The mark of a better public building is not just that it looks good and was delivered on budget: but that it also takes into account the people who will live and work with and within it.
I'm sure it must have been a terribly difficult decision for the judges to choose between the four short-listed projects. Indeed, they all provide a wonderful example of what the Better Public Building programme is hoping to encourage and achieve.
No matter who wins tonight, these projects can teach all of us a bit more about the importance and the process of constructing Better Public Buildings.