Passivhaus council housing project wins major architecture award

A Passivhaus council housing development in Norwich beat four other nominees to win the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) 2019 Stirling Prize.

It is only the second time in the prize’s 23-year history that housing has won, with Accordia, a Cambridge-based scheme, winning in 2007.

The sustainable development consists of nearly 100 houses and flats laid out in traditional terraced streets, with the project designed to meet rigorous Passivhaus standards, resulting in annual energy bills that are 70 per cent lower than the average household’s.

The Norwich construction was nominated alongside The Cork House in Eton, Berkshire, which is designed to emit next to zero carbon, with this year’s award expected to highlight energy efficiency and sustainability in buildings.

London Bridge’s redeveloped train station, The Macallan Distillery in Scotland, The Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire and The Western in Yorkshire made up the remainder of the nominees for the prize, which celebrates innovation in British architecture.

Julia Barfield, chairman of this year’s jury, described Goldsmith Street as a “modest masterpiece” and an outstanding contribution to British architecture.

“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,” she said.

“This is proper social housing, over 10 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, another of the judges, 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 project also picked up the RIBA’s inaugural Neave Brown Award for Housing at tonight’s ceremony at Camden’s Roundhouse.

David Mikhail of Mikhail Riches, who picked up the award alongside Cathy Hawley, 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.

“To all the residents – thank you for sharing your enthusiasm, and your homes, with everyone who has visited.”

The Stirling Prize’s focus on sustainability and energy efficiency follows the recent launch of Architects Declare, a call to arms from a large group of previous Stirling prize winners for an urgent “paradigm shift” to ditch carbon-hungry practices.

The movement, which currently has over 500 signatures from the world of architecture and construction, claims that, alongside clients, designers and builders need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.

“The research and technology exist for us to begin that transformation now, but what has been lacking is collective will. Recognising this, we are committing to strengthen our working practices to create architecture and urbanism that has a more positive impact on the world around us,” Architects Declare stated.

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