From scandal-hit site to the UK’s best new building - Norwich council homes win Stirling Prize

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker. - Credit: Tim Crocker

From a scandal-hit site to the UK's best new building - a development of 105 council homes in Norwich has won one of the country's most prestigious architecture awards.

City ouncillors Gail Harris and Alan Waters recently showed housing minister Esther McVey around the

City ouncillors Gail Harris and Alan Waters recently showed housing minister Esther McVey around the Goldsmith Street development in Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury - Credit: Archant

Goldsmith Street in Norwich has been named winner of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize, awarded to the nation's best new building.

The £17m Norwich City Council project was described as "a modest masterpiece" and "an outstanding contribution to British architecture" by judges at the London ceremony.

The homes - a mix of 45 one-bedroom flats, 40 two-bedroom houses, three two-bedroom flats and five four-bedroom flats - were built by RG Carter and designed by architects Mikhail Riches and Cathy Hawley.

MORE: What is it like to live in the Norwich homes named the UK's best building?

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker. - Credit: Tim Crocker

The homes were built to eco-friendly Passivhaus standards - ultra-low energy buildings which need little fuel for heating or cooling.


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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.

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"Behind restrained creamy façades are impeccably-detailed, highly sustainable homes - an incredible achievement for a development of this scale.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker. - Credit: Tim Crocker

"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.

"Over a quarter of the site is communal space - evidence of the generosity of the scheme.

"A secure alleyway connects neighbours at the bottom of their garden fences and a lushly-planted communal area runs through the estate, providing an inviting place for residents to gather and children to play, fostering strong community engagement and social cohesion.

"Goldsmith Street is a ground-breaking project and an outstanding contribution to British architecture."

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker. - Credit: Tim Crocker

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."

Gail Harris, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for social housing, said: "This is an incredibly proud moment for Norwich, our strong history of building social housing and our ambitions to raise environmental standards.

"Winning this prestigious award shows that it is possible to build fantastic new council homes, despite the challenges posed by central government cuts and restrictions around Right to Buy receipts.

Goldsmith Street. Pic: Archant

Goldsmith Street. Pic: Archant - Credit: Archant

"We are so grateful to Mikhail Riches for sharing our vision for these homes, and helping us to create a sustainable community for our residents."

David Mikhail, of Mikhail Riches, said: "Goldsmith Street's success is testimony to the vision and leadership of Norwich City Council. We thank them for their commitment and support. They believe that council housing tenants deserve great design.

"It is not often we are appointed to work on a project so closely aligned with what we believe matters; buildings people love which are low impact.

"We hope other Local Authorities will be inspired to deliver beautiful homes for people who need them the most, and at an affordable price.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich, which is the bookmakers' favourite to win the RIBA Stirling Prize. Pic:

Goldsmith Street in Norwich, which is the bookmakers' favourite to win the RIBA Stirling Prize. Pic: Archant - Credit: Archant

"To all the residents - thank you for sharing your enthusiasm, and your homes, with everyone who has visited."

Buildings which Goldsmith Street beat included the revamped London Bridge Station, a house built of cork in Eton, The Weston at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire and The Macallan Distillery in Speyside, Scotland.

Previous winners of the prize include the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh and Hastings Pier.

Goldsmith Street is the first social housing project ever to win the prize.

The Macallan distillery in Scotland. Pic: Mark Power/Magnum Photos.

The Macallan distillery in Scotland. Pic: Mark Power/Magnum Photos. - Credit: © Mark Power / Magnum Photos

It completes a remarkable turnaround for a site mired in scandal just over a decade ago.

The site made national headlines in 2008 after it emerged that, contrary to city council policy, council staff had moved into sheltered housing on the site after elderly people who lived there moved out.

The pensioners who lived in Goldsmith Street and Greyhound Opening were being re-homed to make way for new houses.

While the council had agreed officers relocating to Norwich could go into the homes, so elderly people who had yet to move out would not feel isolated, it was against policy for other staff to move in.

Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire. Pic; Helene Binet.

Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire. Pic; Helene Binet. - Credit: Helene Binet

It sparked a scandal at City Hall, with calls for an independent inquiry, and led to the sacking of the council's head of neighbourhood and strategic housing, who was among those who moved into the properties.

The homes were demolished in 2009, with construction work on the new homes starting in 2017.

London Bridge Station.

London Bridge Station. - Credit: Paul Raftery

The Weston at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Pic: Peter Cook.

The Weston at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Pic: Peter Cook. - Credit: Peter Cook

Cork House. pic: David Grandorge.

Cork House. pic: David Grandorge. - Credit: David Grandorge

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