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Bringing the reduced energy consumption associated with Passivhaus to mass housing is a great achievement, and one that has taken a large amount of effort and care by the architects

Community Living At Its Best

The RIBA Stirling Award winner is the Goldsmith Street project for Norwich City Council made up of almost 100 highly energy-efficient homes. It has been designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.

Bringing the reduced energy consumption associated with Passivhaus to mass housing is a great achievement, and one that has taken a large amount of effort and care by the architects

The Goldsmith Street project in the UK was awarded the prestitgious RIBA Stirling Prize. The Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize is a British prize for excellence in architecture. It is organised and awarded annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The RIBA Stirling Prize is presented to “the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year.” Until 2014 the building could be anywhere in the European Union, but since 2015 has had to be in the UK.

Goldsmith Street is an exceptional project that captures the spirit of a very special place. It has been designed by architects Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley and has won the 2019 Stirling Prize awarded to the UK’s best new building. The more one absorbs this project, the more this feeling is reinforced. The architects won this scheme of just over a hundred dwellings a dozen years ago, and have worked and re-worked it, each time keeping their aim of creating a highly sustainable community in mind.

The architects were able to convince the planners to accept a narrow 14m between blocks – effectively the street width – they have introduced a careful design of windows to minimise overlooking

“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,” said Julia Barfield who chaired the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize.

Goldsmith Street meets rigorous Passivhaus standards – remarkable for a dense, mass housing development. It is a passive solar scheme, designed to minimise fuel bills for residents: annual energy costs are estimated to be 70% cheaper than for the average household.

Rows of two-storey houses are bookended by three-storey flats, each with their own front door, generous lobby space for prams and bikes, and a private balcony.

Even the smallest details have been thought about: letterboxes are built into external porches to reduce any possibility of draughts, and perforated aluminium ‘brise-soleils’ provide sun shades above windows and doors.

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. Provision for parking has been pushed to the perimeter, so the streets feel safe and ‘owned’ by pedestrians rather than cars. Bin stores have been thoughtfully used in the front gardens to create buffer zones between the public footpath and the front doors, giving a humane gradation of public to private territory.

A very thoughtful asymmetric roof profile that allows good sunlight and daylight into the streets

Tireless work by the architects has kept the standard of workmanship up to a very high level. Tenants get impressively high specification interiors – in both the end-of-terrace flats and the central terrace houses.
Passivhaus detailing has nicely accommodated the mechanical ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) units in the interiors, and the services intakes have been intelligently controlled.

Each dwelling has a range of providers’ services pre-wired, so that they can be connected on demand, without the need for a service providers’ to come in later and drill through vital vapour barrier lines.

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.
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