Goldsmith Street, a community housing project in Norwich, wins this year’s prestigious Stirling Prize for British Architecture. This is the first time in history that the prize has been awarded for social housing – or for a street, according to some commentators. The particular innovations in Goldsmith Street are relevant in many countries, and also for a town like Stellenbosch.
Norwich City Council initiated the Goldsmith Street project despite adverse legal terms and financial circumstances. The architects appointed for the work developed a neighbourhood rather than a housing block. Particular features of the project comprise its sustainability, the people-oriented urban layout and the integration of numerous smaller innovations.
The architects’ design for the buildings is rounded off well and fits in with traditionally accepted guidelines for the Norwich town centre. The choice and use of building materials comply with Passivhaus standards – power consumption, among other things, is less than seventy percent of the general norm.
Despite the high density – sixty apartments and forty-five houses on less than a hectare – more than a quarter of the development consists of public space. The architects, Mikhail Riches (David Mikhail and Annalie Riches), initially won the competition to design the project with the proposal that the project fits in with the city’s historic street layout, rather than just distributing (as indicated in the other proposals in the competition) residential blocks across the open area.
Alan Jones, chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) describes Goldsmith Street like a beacon of hope. In the midst of severe housing shortages, this is seen as a transformational scheme that can be followed by other local governments. Julia Barfield, chair of the awarding panel, described the project as a modest masterpiece.
The project involves lessons for a town like Stellenbosch, where more than seventy percent of lecturers and middle management at Stellenbosch University, and in the Stellenbosch Municipality and other institutions in the town do not reside in Stellenbosch. This middle group, younger people and first homeowners, especially, drive from neighbouring villages every day to work in Stellenbosch. They therefore help to build communities elsewhere. The important middle group between the poorest and the affluent communities In Stellenbosch has been eroded because there is no housing for this group.