Goldsmith Street's story
The development, in Norwich, is made up of 105 council homes let out for social rent. Norwich City Council’s original plans to sell the site to a local housing provider were undone by the 2008 financial crisis, so in 2012 the city decided to develop the site itself. Designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, the project won the prestigious 2019 RIBA Stirling prize for the best building in the UK.
The homes have been designed to strict Passivhaus standards, meaning that the houses are as airtight as possible and use heat from the sun, human occupants, household appliances and extract air to warm the home. The building does not lose much heat, meaning that the homes need hardly any heating at all. Energy costs are on average around 70% cheaper.
The design seeks to re-introduce streets and houses in an area of the city which is otherwise dominated by 20th century blocks of flats. The popular Golden and Silver Triangles, areas of highly desirable late 19th century terraced housing, is within 5 minutes’ walk.
Existing green links are reinforced with a landscape scheme which extends beyond the boundaries of the site to include local roads and a park. Street widths are intentionally narrow at 14m, emulating the 19th Century model. Parking spaces are set around the perimeter of the area, and there is a 20mph speed limit, so the streets are safer and more pleasant for pedestrians.
A shared ‘alley’ encouraging small children’s play and communal gathering is accessible from back gardens – a secure place which only key holders (residents) can access.
The scheme is dense and low rise. The scheme contains many more houses than most other social housing developments, which are mainly flats. Where there are flats, future maintenance has been minimised by designing them so that every flat has a front door onto the street, with its own staircase and lobby at street level – designing out all internal common parts. The houses in the scheme are mostly two storeys, and some are given the occasional dormer to provide a third bedroom. Most of the principle rooms, face south. Generous kitchen / dining rooms form the heart of each house.
Gail Harris, Norwich City Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for social housing, told the Guardian: “It’s already won lots of awards, which is lovely, and other councils are really envious, but that’s not the point. It’s about people having good quality homes and low fuel bills. And we plan to build a lot more.”
Goldsmith Street's story has been reproduced with kind permission from Change The Rules. Visit www.letschangetherules.org to discover inspiring new economy projects across the UK.
Image: Evelyn Simak
Useful learnings from our research
- Current rules mean that councils can only use receipts from council homes sold through the right to buy policy to cover just 30% of the cost of new homes, with a tight three-year limit in which to spend it. Goldsmith Street was funded by a mix of borrowing, council reserves and right-to-buy receipts, but much more could have been achieved if the right to buy was reformed.
- When the scheme won the RIBA Stirling Prize, it attracted global recognition, but this came with its own challenges. People began to visit to just take photos – looking at it as an attraction rather than as people’s homes. The residents have been largely understanding, but it could become a potential issue for them. Visitors should be sensitive when 'on location' and examining innovative green schemes where people live.