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Norwich council houses could win national Stirling Prize for UK's best building

PUBLISHED: 09:46 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:03 18 July 2019

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Tim Crocker.

Tim Crocker

A set of new council houses in Norwich could be named the best new building in the country.

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

The Norwich City Council-built home's in Goldsmith Street are on the six-strong shortlist for the coveted 2019 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize, which is awarded to the UK's best new building.

The prize is judged against a range of criteria including design vision; innovation and originality; capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors; accessibility and sustainability; how fit the building is for its purpose and the level of client satisfaction.

And Norwich's £17m scheme of 105 homes - a mix of 45 one-bedroom flats, 40 two-bedroom houses, three two-bedroom flats and five four-bedroom flats is on the prestigious shortlist.

The homes, owned and managed by Norwich City Council, are rented out to people with a housing need. They were built by RG Carter and designed by architects Mikhail Riches and Cathy Hawley.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Matthew PattendenGoldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Matthew Pattenden

They have been built to eco-friendly Passivhaus standards, ultra-low energy buildings which need very little fuel for heating or cooling.

Timber framed homes have insulation pumped into a airtight membrane, to prevent heat loss, with triple-glazed windows.

The homes are also kitted out with a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system.

That is essentially a duct which comes into the building, with a fan blowing fresh air in and another duct with a fan blowing stale air out.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Matthew PattendenGoldsmith Street in Norwich. Pic: Matthew Pattenden

A heat exchanger takes the heat from warm air, produced by the likes of washing machines, televisions and body heat.

It then transfers that heat to cold air, so that all rooms are a comfortable temperature.

Each property also has a radiator, just in case a boost is needed.

They have previously scooped award from RIBA East and a RIBA sustainability award.

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

And The Times's architecture correspondent Jonathan Morrison praised it as "the antithesis of all the poor-quality blocks that were erected in the 1960s and 1970s and which are again going up in their hundreds across our cities."

The homes have been designed with a nod to the terraces of Norwich's golden triangle and each property faces south.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London in October.

Rivals for the award are the London Bridge Station, a house built of cork in Eton, The Weston at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire, The Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience in Speyside, Scotland.

Gail Harris, cabinet member with responsibility for social housing, said: "It is fantastic that this development is receiving more national recognition by being shortlisted for this prestigious award.

"As one of very few local authorities building new council homes, this scheme demonstrates our ongoing commitment to providing high quality social housing with eco-credentials that benefit residents and the environment.

"Most of all, I am delighted to see families making these homes their own and forming a new community in the area."

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said: "The RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist epitomises the enviable global reputation of UK architecture.

"These six buildings could hardly be more diverse in typology and scale - from a rustic stable block-turned theatre to a vast national railway station.

"But what they have in common - ground-breaking innovation, extraordinary creativity and the highest quality materials and detailing - sets them apart, rightfully earning them a chance to win the highest accolade in architecture.

"The ambition and commitment of the clients who commissioned the buildings is remarkable and sits at the heart of their success.

"Given the fact the UK faces the worst housing crisis for generations and a global climate emergency, we must encourage their architectural ambition, innovation, bravery and skill.

"From the way that Cork House experiments with entirely plant-based materials, to Goldsmith Street's ultra-low energy affordable homes, each of these six buildings push the boundaries of architecture, exceeding what has been done before, and providing solutions to some of the most pressing challenges of our times."

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

A controversial history

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.

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.

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