Architects, critics and politicians are taking to twitter to celebrate Goldsmith Street in Norwich becoming the first ever social housing scheme to win the RIBA Stirling Prize, while its architect called for government regulation on sustainable building.
It has been widely celebrated as a significant moment in the 23-year-history of the prize, with TV architect George Clarke hailing it as "a game changer".
The project, which achieves the exacting Passivhaus standard for energy efficiency, has been widely acclaimed for demonstrating that council housing can be of high architectural and environmental quality while also being affordable.
"Big win for architecture"
"So councils can procure smaller, design-focused architects, use traditional build contracts, achieve Passivhaus, create beautiful housing and not break the bank," added architect Claire Bennie.
So pleased that a social housing project has won the Stirling Prize. Just shows the kind of architecture we can design when we view council housing in a positive light as opposed to building the bare minimum because there's no profit incentive. https://t.co/qRGbta3UMS
— Frankie Leach (@francesleach_) October 9, 2019
Tate Hindle's Vinesh Pomal also praised the decision, saying it was "a powerful message to public and private sector clients", while British architect Julia Barfield, who chaired the Stirling Prize jury, said that schemes like Goldsmith Street "should become the new normal".
Piers Taylor, founder of Invisible Studio, was also optimistic about the decision, adding that "it is possible once again to imagine the UK might take real pride in its housing infrastructure".
Along with the widespread praise from the architecture industry, several politicians added their compliments, with leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn stating that "this is the type of high quality, eco-friendly social housing we should be building across the UK" and deputy leader Tom Watson describing the result as "great news".
Housing minister Esther McVey also added her congratulations, while shadow housing minister John Headley said: "This shows that council housing can lead the way with cutting-edge design, standards and build quality."
"A tipping point for architecture in the UK"
Numerous commenters took to Twitter to highlight the importance of the prize's recognition of Goldsmith Street's environmental credentials.
London studio Architype said the win "puts Passivhaus in the spotlight – exactly where it needs to stay".
Architect Sean Jeffries Pavis hopes that "this is a tipping point for architecture in the UK", adding that all "architecture should preserve and repair our environment, locally, nationally and globally", while UK Green Building Council's John Alker said it was "so good to see the word #Passivhaus scroll across screen on TV news last night".
With the #StirlingPrize last night, it is possible once again to imagine the UK might take real pride in its housing infrastructure & that social housing might form the backbone of exceptional placemaking.
— Piers Taylor (@Piers_Taylor) 9 October 2019
However, not all reactions were as positive. Implying that the decision had been swayed by politics, journalist Amanda Baillieu asked: "Can someone remind me. Is the Stirling Prize about virtue signalling or about a building that's taking British architecture forward?"
Developer Neil Murphy also shifted the spotlight towards the cost of the scheme, stating that despite being "brilliant" that "it is important to note that at £2,100 per square metre Goldsmith Street is emphatically not low cost."
The project proved a popular winner among attendees at the prize-giving ceremony in London on Tuesday night.
"Most sustainable" project on the shortlist
"In the light of the climate emergency it was the most sustainable of all the projects," said architect and Stirling Prize jury chair Julia Barfield, to applause and cheers. "But it was also a modest masterpiece that redefines the street for the 21st century. And it's proper social housing. At last."
Goldsmith Street consists of 100 low-energy homes arranged in seven terraces. Pedestrian alleys run between the blocks, with cars pushed to the edge of the development.
Mikhail Riches partner Annalie Riches praised the vision of client Norwich City Council, which followed a traditional procurement route that retained the architect right up until delivery of the project, rather than the more common design-and-build route, whereby the architect's involvement ends once the design is complete.
"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the vision of Norwich City Council and some of the really forward thinking decisions they've made throughout the process," she said, again to cheers. "The first one was that they had an the international RIBA competition for council housing."
Client pushed for more ambitious energy target
"They put us on the shortlist without any track record," she continued. "They then selected the best design and they got a resident of the sheltered housing to give the casting vote. We had proposed a passive solar scheme and they said let's do the more ambitious Passivhaus standard."
"When the chips were down and we were over budget they let us lead the value engineering process. And they then went for a traditional contract and not design and build. So I think that all those decisions have led to the quality of the project."
David Mikhail said the project achieved "100 per cent certified Passivhaus standards at an unprecedented scale."
He added: "We worked very hard to bring it in at £1,850 per square metre. I think that's important because it's a project at that price, which demonstrates with teamwork, we architects, builders, we can do it. And our clients can do it too."
Mikhail called on the government to regulate to make it easier for architects to deliver more sustainable projects.
Call for government to regulate
"I think we all know we have a climate and a species-loss emergency," he said. "So measuring embodied carbon has to be the next step."
"We're asking for government to regulate. We need you to set up a level playing so that we're not seen as the crusties in the room."
RIBA's Stirling Prize has been awarded annually since 1996 to the buildings deemed to have made the most significant impact to British architecture in the past year.
The five other projects shortlisted for this year's prize were Cork House by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, The Weston by Feilden Fowles Architects, The Macallan Distillery by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Nevill Holt Opera by Witherford Watson Mann Architects, and London Bridge Station by Grimshaw.
Goldsmith Street also took the inaugural Neave Brown Award for Housing, given in memory of the Royal Gold Medal-winning architect who designed the Alexandra Road Estate in north London.