Emma Vergette finds the best of British at a London museum, and definitely not in the modern-day suburban sprawl

It’s part of my job to present an image of contemporary Britain overseas, so I’m interested in buildings that can influence people’s perception of things. Foster and Partners’ Great Court helped to transform people’s impressions of the British Museum into a dynamic institution firmly positioned in the 21st century, and it shows what you can achieve by employing a fantastic architect. You can’t help but be overwhelmed when you walk into the space. It’s unequivocally a masterpiece, and a technological triumph as well. It unifies the disparate elements of the existing building and creates a space that the public really enjoys using.

Blunders are everywhere, and the most widespread and depressing are in recent housing in both cities and market towns, where backward-looking designs and low-cost materials produce very poor built environments. Developers argue they’re pandering to the public’s taste, but I don’t think it’s true to say the public only wants retro, traditional homes. The industry might be moving in the right direction on design, but the huge, volume developers are still very mediocre.

It looks like good architects are unlikely to be involved in John Prescott’s growth areas. It’s such a lost opportunity to influence new living environments on a grand scale.

Emma Vergette is head of design and architecture at the British Council