Winner of the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize, Goldsmith Street in Norwich is a Norwich City Council housing development comprising of 93 highly energy-efficient homes that have been let through the council’s lettings scheme, Home Options.
Designed by architects Mikhail Riches, rows of two-storey houses are bookended by three-storey flats, each with their own front door, generous lobby space for prams and a private balcony. The back gardens of the central terraces share a secure ‘ginnel’ (alleyway) for children to play together and a wide landscaped walkway for the community runs directly through the middle of the estate. Parking has been pushed to Goldsmith Street’s outer edges, making sure that people, not cars, own the streets.
Although the layout has a traceable link with the English Housing tradition, the rest of the project is very modern in its conception. Black glazed pantiles, mitred as they go from a roof covering to a wall covering, perforated metal brise soleil, and the new detailing associated with energy conscious design are wholly contemporary. The brick is also contemporary, with characteristic intentional white efflorescence colouration, set in a mews or small terrace layout.
The development is a rare example of new council housing built in the UK, with all homes built to eco-efficient Passivhaus standards, meaning they are ultra-low energy buildings needing minimal fuel for heating or cooling. To be certified Passivhaus, the windows of the development had to be smaller than the proportion in a Georgian or Victorian terrace, so the architects have used a set-back panel around the windows to give an enlarged feel, and panels of textured brick have been introduced into the main elevations, again to balance the feel of the fenestration along the terrace. Following completion, the site has become the country’s largest 100% Passivhaus and 100% social rent scheme. Developed in Germany, the heating costs in a Passivhaus can be up to 70% cheaper compared to the average UK home.
The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize judging was chaired by Julia Barfield. Of the development, she said:
“Goldsmith Street is a modest masterpiece. It is high-quality architecture in its purest, most environmentally and socially conscious form. Behind restrained creamy façades are impeccably-detailed, highly sustainable homes – an incredible achievement for a development of this scale. This is proper social housing, over ten years in the making, delivered by an ambitious and thoughtful council. These desirable, spacious, low-energy properties should be the norm for all council housing.”
Councillor Gail Harris, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member for social housing, said: “Winning the Stirling Prize was an incredibly proud moment for the city council and for Norwich.
“It was a fitting tribute to our strong history of building social housing and shows that our ambitions to deliver new council homes that are built to high environmental standards is possible, despite the challenges of central government cuts and restrictions around Right to Buy receipts.
“We remain incredibly grateful to Mikhail Riches for sharing our vision for these homes, and helping us to create a sustainable community for our residents.”
The development has also won the first Neave Brown Award for Housing. Named in honour of the late Neave Brown (1929-2018), the award recognises the best new example of affordable housing in the UK. Projects eligible for the award needed to have won a RIBA Regional Award (Goldsmith Street won in RIBA East); be 10 or more homes completed and occupied between 1st November 2016 and 1st February 2019 and have one third of the housing be affordable and demonstrate evidence of meeting the challenges of housing affordability.
Chair of the Neave Brown Award for Housing Jury, Immediate RIBA Past President Ben Derbyshire said:
“Goldsmith Street is an exemplar for social housing. Over 10 years in the making, the architects, working with the City Council have shown impressive sensitivity and prowess at every single stage of the process. The result is not just a highly desirable new neighbourhood for Norwich, but homes of the highest quality and most exacting environmental standards. That the outcome appears so naturally at ease in its context requires skill and determination belied by the scheme’s apparent simplicity.”