Prize-winning UK council houses show social homes can be inspired

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 9 October 2019 16:11 GMT

Goldsmith Street council homes in Norwich, Britain, which won the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture. Tim Crocker

Image Caption and Rights Information

The environmentally-friendly development has been hailed as a "modest masterpiece" by judges

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Oct 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An elegant and ultra energy-efficient street of new social homes should help inspire a new generation of public housing after it won Britain's most prestigious architecture prize, said housing experts on Wednesday.

The publicly-funded Goldsmith Street in the eastern city of Norwich was hailed as a "modest masterpiece" by judges as it became the first social housing development to win the Stirling Prize for Britain's best new building.

"What is interesting about the Goldsmith Street development is it shows that councils can build high-quality housing in cities," Anthony Breach, an analyst with the Centre for Cities, a policy research charity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The win for Goldsmith Street, which was funded by Norwich City Council, comes as Britain faces sluggish public housebuilding and rising homelessness in many cities.

England is failing to build the number of homes it needs, according to a briefing paper from parliament last year, but councils have dramatically reduced building over recent years in the face of budget cuts.

Councils completed more than 115,000 homes across England in 1975, government data shows, but by 2018 they built just 2,640, adding to pressure for housing and especially affordable homes.

More than 80,000 households were living in temporary accommodation in England last year, according to government data, while about 4,500 people were sleeping rough.

Goldsmith Street was designed to complement nearby Victorian-era homes and offer shared space for residents while its environmentally-friendly construction cuts energy bills, which is critical for reducing cities' planet-warming emissions.

The homes are positioned to draw warmth from the sun, with thick walls retaining heat and consideration for energy efficiency stretching to small details such as the creation of external letterboxes to prevent draughts through the front door.

It also includes an alleyway for children to play in, while parking was pushed to the edges of the development to ensure that cars do not dominate the public space.

"Goldsmith Street is a modest masterpiece," said the judges in a statement announcing the prize.

"These desirable, spacious, low-energy properties should be the norm for all council housing."

The development should act as "a pioneering exemplar for other local authorities to follow" added Alan Jones, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects which organises the Stirling Prize.

"Faced with a global climate emergency, the worst housing crisis for generations and crippling local authority cuts, Goldsmith Street is a beacon of hope," he said.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.