See inside the Norwich council house scheme hailed as among the world’s best architecture
PUBLISHED: 15:55 20 June 2018 | UPDATED: 09:52 21 June 2018
Copyright: Archant 2018
Westminster Abbey, The Royal Academy, the National Museum of Qatar and just over 100 council homes being built in a street off Dereham Road in Norwich.
Strange bedfellows, perhaps, but what the Goldsmith Street scheme has in common with multi-million pound projects around the globe is that its design has been highlighted as among the 10 best examples of architecture taking shape in the world this year.
The £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 - was picked out by The Times newspaper.
The homes, owned and managed by Norwich City Council, will be rented out to people with a housing need. They are being built by RG Carter and designed by architects Mikhail Riches.
Something setting the housing apart is that it is being built to eco-friendly Passivhaus standards, ultra-low energy buildings which need very little fuel for heating or cooling - which also means the people who move in will have cheaper fuel bills.
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 development has also scooped a RIBA Design Award.
Gail Harris, cabinet member for social housing at Norwich City Council, welcomed the plaudits, but is just as excited that the council will soon be moving tenants into top quality housing.
She said: “I just feel very proud that we have been able to push this forward.
“When you go into these homes and see the level of detail, you just think its stunning.
“What The Times said is recognition of what a good design it is and this is something quite special.
“To be named, alongside some of these multi-million pound projects around the world, shows we have got vision and that we have driven it forward.”
The homes have been designed with a nod to the terraces of Norwich’s golden triangle and each home faces south.
Two new L-shaped roads will serve as access to the streets - Goldsmith Street, Haslips Close and Greyhound Opening.
The homes have gardens, while the flats have balconies, but it’s the Passivhaus elements which make the development so forward-looking.
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.
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.
Shading of the set-back windows is designed to help keep them cool in the summer months.
Council officers estimate that the energy bills of people who live there will be up to 70pc cheaper than comparable non Passivhaus homes.
Mrs Harris said: “We know we have got a large amount of fuel poverty in the city and we know some people have had to make choices about whether to eat or heat their homes.
“This sort of development eases those problems.”
The upfront cost of building homes to Passivhaus standard is higher, but the council says, over a 30-year period, it will not work out as more expensive than standard homes - and is kinder to the environment.
Norwich is blazing something of a trail when it comes to the Passivhaus movement, having set its sights on becoming the UK’s Passivhaus capital.
The first Passivhaus development, of 10 homes, was in Hansard Close, off Mile Cross Road, while Rayne Park at Three Score in Bowthorpe includes 112 homes being built to Passivhaus standards.
Mrs Harris said: “Why shouldn’t social housing be good quality? We should always be pushing for good quality for our tenants and I would like to build more.”
The first tenants are likely to move into their homes in September, with more homes available in the following weeks.
A second phase of a dozen homes will be built subsequently.
What is Passivhaus?
The Passivhaus standard was developed in Germany by Professors Bo Adamson, of Sweden, and Wolfgang Feist, of Germany during the 1990s.
The very first homes to be completed to the Passivhaus Standard were built in the German city of Darmstadt in 1991.
The aim is to build a house that has an excellent thermal performance and exceptional airtightness with mechanical ventilation.
The defining characteristic of a Passivhaus building is that the heating requirement has been reduced to a point where a traditional heating system is no longer essential, with the ventilation system recovering heat generated from appliances such as washing machines, televisions and from body heat.
The need for cooling is reduced through the use of shading and, in some cases, via the pre-cooling of the supply air.
And that drives down fuel bills for people living in them.
A controversial past
Greyhound Opening 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 there and in nearby Goldsmith Street 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 Kristine Reeves, 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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