UK's Goldsmith Street housing by Mikhail Riches wins RIBA Stirling Prize 2019
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UK's Goldsmith Street housing by Mikhail Riches wins RIBA Stirling Prize 2019

The council housing project in Norwich, a sustainable community design that meets Passivhaus standards, has been announced as the ‘best building in the UK’ by RIBA.

by Jincy Iype Oct 18, 2019

The environmentally conscious and socially sustainable housing scheme, Goldsmith Street, in Norwich was crowned the winner of RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling Prize for 2019. Designed by London-based architectural practice Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, its simple intent, thoughtful design implementation and subtle aesthetic makes it worthy of all the recognition it is receiving. This modest council housing (a type of British public housing built by local authorities) consists of 100 highly energy-efficient homes, all at social rent, which is quite uncommon for most of the contemporary housing schemes of today.

  • Goldsmith Street housing designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    Goldsmith Street housing designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley Image Credit: Tim Crocker
  • Goldsmith Street housing in Norwich consists of 100 highly energy efficient homes | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    Goldsmith Street housing in Norwich consists of 100 highly energy efficient homes Image Credit: Tim Crocker

In these grave days of climate crisis, this residential neighbourhood displays smart solutions, with an underlying, conscious respect for the environment and human society. The residential scheme is made up of a simple array of seven terrace blocks, arranged in four lines, of two-storey houses bookended by three-storey flats. Each abode has its own front door and private balconies along with plentiful lobby space.

With a goal of creating a highly sustainable community in mind, the ensuing design process resulted in a dense development, and meet Passivhaus standards (buildings that follow Passivhaus standards provide a high level of occupant comfort while using very little energy for heating and cooling).

  • Goldsmith Street housing designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    Goldsmith Street housing designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley Image Credit: Tim Crocker
  • Each abode has its own front door and private balconies along with plentiful lobby space | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    Each abode has its own front door and private balconies along with plentiful lobby space Image Credit: Tim Crocker

Integration of back gardens amid the central terraces share ‘ginnels’ (alleyway), which create safe and secure green spaces for children to play. A wide landscaped walkway for the residents winds through the middle of the housing, providing a curved relief in the otherwise straight lined visual of the residential development.

Letterboxes have been built in the porches outside, while bin stores in the front gardens, between the public footpath and the front doors, create buffer zones that separate the public from private.

  • Goldsmith Street housing designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    Goldsmith Street housing designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley Image Credit: Tim Crocker
  • ‘Ginnels’ (alleyways) integrated in the Goldsmith Street housing | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    ‘Ginnels’ (alleyways) integrated in the Goldsmith Street housing Image Credit: Tim Crocker

The streets are narrower than usual, as the houses are 14 m apart (as opposed to the average of 21 m), which makes the incoming and outgoing traffic less intrusive. Parking areas have been planned and positioned at the community’s external edges, with a mindful effort to ensure that its streets are occupied not by cars, but by people. 

  • The streets are narrower than usual, as the houses are 14 m apart
| Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    The streets are narrower than usual, as the houses are 14 m apart Image Credit: Tim Crocker
  • Goldsmith Street housing by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley wins RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    Goldsmith Street housing by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley wins RIBA Stirling Prize 2019 Image Credit: Tim Crocker

The buildings also include black, glazed tiles, mitred as they move from covering the roof to the wall, along with perforated metal brise soleil, which provides sun shade above the windows and doors. The efflorescent, white coloured bricks set in these rows of street houses lend a contemporary vibe. The asymmetric profile of the roofs let in daylight into the residences, and also allows light into the streets.

This mass housing development also meets rigorous Passivhaus standards with its passive solar scheme in place, which is designed to reduce fuel bills for its residents. The energy costs annually are estimated to be 70 percent cheaper, compared to an average household. The size of the windows had to be reduced in order for the project to certify for Passivhaus, and hence, the architects incorporated a set-back panel around the windows to give them an enlarged feel.

  • The buildings also include black, glazed tiles | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    The buildings also include black, glazed tiles Image Credit: Tim Crocker
  • The size of the windows had to be reduced in order for the project to certify for Passivhaus | Goldsmith Street Housing | Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley | RIBA Stirling Prize 2019| STIRworld
    The size of the windows had to be reduced in order for the project to certify for Passivhaus Image Credit: Tim Crocker

The thoughtful and carefully designed project won against tough competition from five other notable nominated schemes for the RIBA Stirling Prize 2019 - London Bridge Station (by Grimshaw), the Weston at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (by Feilden Fowles), Nevill Holt Opera (by Witherford Watson Mann Architects), Cork House (by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton), and the Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience (by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners).

The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize judges, chaired by Julia Barfield, said in a press statement, "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."

02 min watch
Winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize 2019 - Goldsmith Street Video Credit: Courtesy of RIBA Architecture

Project Details

Name of the project: Goldsmith Street
Location: Norwich, England
Internal area: 8,056 sqm
RIBA region: East
Year of completion: December 2018
Client: Norwich City Council
Architect: Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley
Contract value: £14,774,138.33
Structural engineers: Rossi Long Consulting Ltd
Environmental / M&E engineers: Greengauge Building Energy Consultants Ltd
Project management: MER Construction Services Ltd
Landscape architects: BBUK
Certified Passivhaus designer: WARM
Clerk of works: Enhabit (Whole House Energy)

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About Author

Jincy Iype

Jincy Iype

Iype is a trained architect, who often indulges in writing and amateur photography. She was a cinephile and a melophile even before she knew what those words meant. She is inclined towards architecture journalism, and can usually be found curled up reading a book, or cooking for therapeutic relief.

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