A Modest Masterpiece

Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.

It seems entirely appropriate that the Stirling Prize goes to a Council House scheme on the one hundred year anniversary of the Addison Act of 1919, which paved the way for the mass construction of social housing. Appropriate also in the current social climate of environmental concerns.

It was a double celebration for the architects, Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, as the scheme also won the Neave Brown Award for Housing 2019 on the same evening.

Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.

Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.

Conceived for an Architectural Competition 11 years ago, Goldsmith Street, is a scheme of 105 houses configured in a fairly typical urban layout of seven terraced blocks in four rows. The considered layout does not seem cramped despite the density of buildings, which is far tighter than modern overlooking regulations allow, with a mere 14 metres between blocks. The architects took their inspiration and precedent from the ‘Golden Triangle’ a local neighbourhood of desirable, Victorian terraced houses. The argument for this precedent won at planning, possibly aided by the client also being the local authority. It was this aspect of designing a street based community, rather than apartment buildings, which was a significant factor in the London based practice winning the original competition.

Whilst the scheme was tweaked and re-tweaked the aim remained true to the intention to create a highly sustainable, contemporary development for social housing.

Masterplan of Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.
Masterplan of Goldsmith Street by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.

Whilst, the layout may be typically English and the house aesthetic is pleasing, yet lacking in wow factor, it is the subtleties of the design that captivate. Contemporary design is apparent within the traditional layout, with black, glazed pantiles flowing from roof to wall and perforated aluminium brise-soleils providing enough shade above the windows and doors for the high summer sun, whilst allowing the lower winter sun to warm the interiors. These are not houses with some eco-friendly measure added in, the entire build from conception has been eco-considered. An asymmetric roof angled at 15 degrees allows light to penetrate the development despite the close density, all the wall are at least 600 mm thick  and all the properties face South, further increasing the benefit of the solar gain.

Illustration of solar gain and light penetration on Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.
Illustration of solar gain and light penetration.

Smaller than standard windows were required to meet the stringent Passivhaus standards, however, to prevent the windows appearing undersized, the architects included setback wall panels, a clever design which also helps resolve the overlooking issue.

Passivhaus technology incorporates all requirements for utilities; ducting, wiring, etc. at the construction stage, thereby, eliminating the need for service providers to retrofit through walls breaching the vapour barriers and air-tightness. This level of air-tightness in a home demands the need for mechanical ventilation, which, combined with heat recovery, has a significant effect on the energy efficiency of a building.

The meeting of Passivhaus standards on a project of this scale is no mean achievement and is reflected in the costs of £2200 per m2 (todays price), which would be considered higher than average for mass, social housing. All the houses feature external porches, housing the letterboxes, as draught lobbies and interlocking staircases enable individual front doors onto the street even on the three storey apartment buildings. The resulting energy bills amount to an impressive 70% less than the average house.

Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.

The ‘traditional rules’ of urban design dictates that rows of terraced houses must face each other, of course, with all the buildings facing South this is not possible – Goldsmith Street breaks the rules, proudly connecting the terraces with landscaped and planted pedestrian zones where meandering pathways lead through the communal areas. Parking at the perimeter encourages people to abandon their cars away from home creating a safe and inviting zone for children to play in and community spirit to flourish.

The communal spaces, which occupy over a quarter of the total area, are separated from the gardens with the bin stores providing a discreet barrier for transition from public to private space.

Described by the Stirling Prize judges as “a Modest Masterpiece,” it is not just an architectural wonder, in these days of squeezing the token social housing infill into a plan, Goldsmith Street is a rare anomaly of being entirely council rented properties at fixed rents.

Perhaps, one of the most  interesting, and astonishing, aspects of the scheme is that, whilst sustainability is very much the buzz word as this decade draws to a close, Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley had the foresight to design this scheme at the end of the last decade.

Perhaps that is the true ‘wow’ factor here.

Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.
Stirling prize 2019 winner, Goldsmith Street, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley.

To see all six projects on this years Stirling Prize Shortlist visit ‘A Stirling Shortlist.’