‘Passivhaus’ council house scheme could set trend for eco-friendly building

Norwich Council has become the first ever council to claim the Riba Stirling Prize for its revolutionary, eco-friendly council housing scheme Goldsmith Street.

The prestigious prize, which was awarded by a jury from the Royal Institute of Building Architects (RIBA), praised the 105-home development as a ‘modest masterpiece’.

Built to a Passivhaus standard

Goldsmith Street is the largest UK development to meet the demanding Passivhaus international energy performance standard. The ultra-low energy housing project, which aims to use very little energy for heating and cooling, will result in the average home’s fuel bill reducing by up to 70%.

The Norwich scheme took a decade to complete at a cost of £14.7 million and is the creation of Mikhail Riches along with Cathy Hawley.

Accepting the award, architect David Mikhail thanked the residents of Goldsmith Street and called on the government to do more to help architects tackle the climate crisis.

The next step in building design

Mikhail said: “We were lucky enough to conceive this project 11 years ago, things have changed since then and are more extreme. We all know we have a climate and a species loss emergency so we know measuring embodied carbon has to be the next step.”

Goldsmith Street was also awarded the inaugural Neave Brown award, launched this year in honour of the late US architect’s pioneering social housing work. The development beat the £1 billion overhaul of London Bridge Station.

RIBA’s president Alan Jones said: “Faced with a global climate emergency, the worst housing crisis for generations and crippling local authority cuts, Goldsmith Street is a beacon of hope.”

Alan Jones added: “It is commended not just as a transformative social housing scheme and eco-development, but a pioneering exemplar for other local authorities to follow.”

Mikhail Riches took its design inspiration from the 19th century ‘Golden Triangle’ situated nearby. The high quality streetscape and landscape design also aims to provide onsite wide ecological enhancement.

Beautiful and liveable

The scheme comprises a mix of 60 flats and 45 houses built around amenity spaces to promote safe play spaces for children with two landscaped play areas onsite.

The flats have been designed to generate a sense of individual identity and ownership with their own street level front door with 16 different door colours and no common parts. Letterboxes are built into external porches, rather than the front doors, to reduce draughts.

Former Minister of State for Housing and Planning Kit Malthouse said: “This is exactly the sort of development we are looking for. It all hangs together to show that it is possible to create dense housing, on a gentle basis, that is both beautiful and liveable and human in scale.”

What is a passive house?

If you haven’t heard of them, passive houses (or Passivhaus as it is known across Europe) are homes that consume ultra-low levels of energy, drastically minimising the building’s carbon footprint. To meet the International Passivhaus standard, the building’s design process must meet strict criteria, with superinsulation, advanced window technology, air tightness and ventilation all assessed, among other characteristics.

The housing industry is becoming increasingly more eco-conscious, as are the general public who now value the ‘greenness’ of a property more highly than they once did. Homes that offer eco-friendly living not only reduce the carbon footprint but also lower energy costs for residents, which is a huge selling point for both homeowners as well as property investors marketing to tenants.

Certain lenders have even started to offer cheaper mortgage rates for those borrowers who manage to successfully upgrade the energy rating of their home.

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