Goldsmith Street is a new £17m development in Norwich of around 105 homes – a mix of 45 one-bedroom flats, 40 two-bedroom houses, three two-bedroom flats and five four-bedroom flats.
The homes are owned and managed by Norwich City Council, and rented out to people with a housing need. They are being built by R.G. Carter and designed by architects Mikhail Richer with Norwich City Council acting as de facto developer. Goldsmith Street represents straightforward social housing, rented from the Council with secure tenancies at fixed rents.
London-based architects Mikhail Riches and Cathy Hawley first won the competition for the site in 2008. The council’s intention had been to sell the site to a local housing provider, but these plans were forestalled by the financial crisis. In 2012, the city took the brave step of deciding to develop the site itself using a mix of borrowing, funds from its housing revenue account, some right-to-buy receipts and council reserves.
What also makes Goldsmith Street stand out from the crowd is its commitment to energy-efficiency. Goldsmith Street is perhaps the most energy efficient housing ever built in the UK, meeting exacting Passivhaus standards – which results in a 70% reduction in fuel bills for tenants. With Passivhaus the heating requirement has been reduced to a point where a traditional heating system is no longer essential, with the ventilation system recovering heat generated from appliances such as washing machines, televisions and from body heat.
The timber framed buildings have insulation pumped into a airtight membrane, to prevent heat loss, with triple-glazed windows with a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system. The upfront cost of building homes to Passivhaus standard is higher, but the Council says, over a 30-year period, it will not work out as more expensive than standard homes – and is kinder to the environment.
Although not architecturally distinctive in its design, Goldsmith Street offers a radical approach to the provision of low-carbon socially progressive housing. The scheme is dense and low-rise proving more houses than other completion entries, which were mainly flats – thus better values from the site. Future maintenance has been minimised by designing flats whereby every flat has a front door onto the street, with its own staircase and lobby at street level – this designing out all internal common parts.
With regard to urban design strategies the design re-introduces 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 is on street and a 20mph speed limit is to be applied. 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.
PHOTO CREDITS: Mikhail Riches and Cathy Hawley