Goldsmith Street, a scheme of 100 homes designed by architects Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley for Norwich City Council, has won architecture’s highest accolade, the RIBA Stirling Prize, for the UK’s best new building. The project is one of an increasingly rare breed of new council housing schemes in the UK, and is built to the stringent guidelines of Passivhaus standards, making it highly energy efficient. The judging panel commented that its Passivhaus status was “remarkable for a dense, mass housing development.”
The scheme was part of a six-strong shortlist that largely focused on environmentally conscious building designs, including the almost-zero-carbon Cork House by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, and The Macallan Distillery by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, which has a rolling grass rooftop.
Goldsmith Street was praised for its energy efficiency as well as its aesthetic decisions regarding materials. The houses are highly insulated and airtight, with every detail considered to this end – including the placement of letterboxes. Energy costs for residents are estimated to be 70 per cent cheaper than for the average UK household.
All the homes have outdoor space and access to carefully planned communal spaces, a core part of the overall scheme. “For me, one of the most successful aspects are the social issues," says David Mikhail, co-founder of Mikhail Riches, in a film about the project. As such, the practice was “keen to ensure front doors face front doors,” he explains, creating a traditional street that is less car-orientated, with secure play spaces for children where parents can keep an eye on them.
In a statement, judging panel chair Julia Barfield called Goldsmith Street “a modest masterpiece… high-quality architecture in its purest, most environmentally and socially conscious form. 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.”