The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize has gone to a collection of 100 houses in Norwich, U.K. The low-energy homes on Goldsmith Street were designed by London-based studio Mikhail Riches and British architect Cathy Hawley for Norwich Council.

It seems housing crises are everywhere at the moment and Britain is no exception, and the problems are compounded when you add in a “climate emergency,” which the U.K.’s leading practices have formally acknowledged. The 100 homes commissioned by the Norwich Council were designed to PassivHaus standards—the gold standard when it comes to energy efficiency—in an attempt combat both problems. That means a 70 percent reduction in energy bills for residents. Better still, these are genuine council homes and not “affordable housing,” able to be rented from the council directly, thus boasting fixed rents and providing tenants with extra security.

Beyond this, the homes have been beautifully designed, too. Goldsmith Street takes cues from the nearby Victorian streets of the Golden Triangle district. The architects, though, do not succumb to producing another Poundbury, despite maintaining the same Victorian street widths and heavy use of brick, which has been wonderfully detailed to create a series of balconies. Garbage stores have been neatly tucked away behind bronze screens, and homes, despite being priced at social rent, aren’t tight on space and provide lobby room for prams and bikes.

A communal green space behind brick homes

Communal central terrace spaces run behind the homes. (Tim Crocker)

Rooftops angle to ensure sunlight is able to enter houses in the row behind each other, and every home has its own front door and separate letterbox. Two-story houses are aligned in rows, with three-story flats situated either side. In addition to this, central terraces share a landscaped, communal walkway, meanwhile, parking facilities have been pushed to the site’s periphery. Together, the homes form seven terraced blocks and compose a calm, pedestrian-friendly, low-rise estate.

Mikhail Riches and Hawley were awarded the project after winning a competition back in 2008. The original plan was to sell the site to a local housing provider; however the financial crisis stalled the project and forced municipal authorities to press ahead on the development themselves.

Unlike last year, when Foster + Partner’s hulking Bloomberg HQ won, this year’s winner is likely to be welcome, perhaps unexpected news to those in the profession. Goldsmith Street is a far cry from a glitzy office for a multinational corporation in central London, and its claim for being the best new work of architecture in Britain will hopefully spur on other councils to emulate Norwich’s accomplishments.

In winning the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize, Goldsmith Street fended off competition from five other projects: Cork House: in Berkshire by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton; London Bridge Station by Grimshaw; Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire by Witherford Watson Mann Architects; The Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience in Moray, Scotland, by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, and The Weston in Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Feilden Fowles Architects.

In a press release, The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize judges, chaired by Julia Barfield, said: “Goldsmith Street is a modest masterpiece. It is high-quality architecture in its purest most environmentally and socially-conscious form. Behind restrained creamy facades are impeccably-detailed, highly sustainable homes – an incredible achievement for a development of this scale. This is proper social housing, over ten 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.”

David Mikhail of Mikhail Riches added: “Goldsmith Street’s success is a 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.”

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