Norwich Council Estate Wins 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize

THE ROYAL INSTITUTE of British Architects (RIBA) has named Goldsmith Street in Norwich, designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, as the winner of the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize. The annual prize, presented since 1996, is awarded to the UK’s best new building.

Goldsmith Street is an estate of almost 100 ultra low-energy homes built for Norwich City Council. Unlike  the high-rise flats dominating the surrounding area, Goldsmith Street is arranged in seven terrace blocks, modelled on the Victorian streets of the nearby ‘Golden Triangle’ district.

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. The back gardens of the central terraces share a secure ‘ginnel’ (alleyway) for children to play together, and a wide landscaped walkway for communal gatherings runs perpendicularly through the middle of the estate. Parking has been pushed to the outer edges of the development, ensuring that people own the streets, not their cars.


Goldsmith Street meets rigorous ‘Passivhaus’ environmental 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).

To maximise solar gain, all homes face south and every wall is over 600mm thick, and the roofs are pitched at 150 to ensure each terrace does not block sunlight from homes in the street behind.

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

The palette of building materials references Norwich’s history, such as the glossy black roof pantiles – a nod to the city’s Dutch trading links – and the creamy clay bricks, similar to Victorian terraces nearby.

To ensure the windows echoed Victorian proportions but also met ‘Passivhaus’ requirements, the architects developed a recessed feature, giving the impression of a much larger opening but limiting the amount of glass. Bespoke steel mesh garden gates and brightly coloured front doors give each home a strong sense of individuality and ownership.

The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize judges, chaired by Julia Barfield, 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”.

RIBA President Alan Jones added, “Faced with a global climate emergency, the worst housing crisis for generations and crippling local authority cuts, Goldsmith Street is a beacon of hope. It is commended not just as a transformative social housing scheme and eco-development, but a pioneering exemplar for other local authorities to follow.”

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) welcomed Goldsmith Street’s 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize win. John Alker, Director of Policy and Places at UKGBC said, “As more and more local authorities step up and declare a climate emergency, it is clear to many that the climate crisis requires a comprehensive response. This project shows that we can step up to the climate challenge and address it in a way that benefits everyone.”

Goldsmith Street was chosen by the jury from the following outstanding shortlisted projects:

Goldsmith Street was also named as the winner of the inaugural Neave Brown Award for Housing by RIBA.

Goldsmith Street

RIBA region:    East
Architect practice:    Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley
Date of completion:    December 2018
Client company name:    Norwich City Council
Project city/town:    Norwich
Contract value:    £14,774,138.33
Internal area:    8,056.00 m²
Cost per m²:    £1,834.00 / m²
Contractor company name:    RG Carter


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