architecture

Building of the week: Goldsmith Street, Norwich

The Sterling Prize is the most prestigious award in British architecture, awarded each year to the ‘best new UK building’. For the first time in the 23 year history of the award, the Royal Institute of British Architects has given the Sterling Prize to a social housing project.

Goldsmith Street is a council housing project in Norwich. That in itself is rare enough – council developments on this scale are all too rare these days, despite the huge national shortfall in affordable homes. Not only have Norwich raised the finance for 105 new homes, they have aimed high. The whole development is designed to Passivhaus standard, giving residents much lower bills for the lifetime of the houses. It’s the largest Passivhaus project in the country.

This is a project that looks back as well as forward, and puts a 21st spin on the terraced street. In terms of use of space, nobody has really improved on the Victorian Terrace. Multi-storey flats get more homes into the same space, but at the expense of community and convenience. Mikhail Riches, the architects firm behind Goldsmith Street, have given everyone a front door opening into a shared street, and it strikes a balance between private and public space.

Goldsmith Street demonstrates what council housing can look like in 2020. It doesn’t have to be second rate. It can and should be built to the highest level of energy efficiency, as that helps to combat fuel poverty. I hope the project inspires other councils to raise their ambutions, and prompts the government to look again at the rules which currently stifle the construction of public housing.

The chair of the judging panel, Julia Barfield, called Goldsmith Street “a modest masterpiece”, adding that “these desirable, spacious, low-energy properties should be the norm for all council housing.”

Finally, it’s good to see a more realistically sustainable building celebrated by RIBA, as as Oliver Wainwright points out: “The decision represents a welcome contrast from last year’s winner, Norman Foster’s £1.3bn headquarters for Bloomberg, which involved importing 600 tonnes of bronze from Japan and a quarry-full of granite from India, while claiming to be the most sustainable office building ever conceived.”

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