The RIBA Stirling Prize threatens to become a curse for the residents of Goldsmith Street with hordes of visitors flocking to the neighbourhood, a newspaper reported last week
The Guardian alleges that the council housing project, designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, could become ‘a freak show’ with interest ‘so intense that the local authority is planning regular guided tours’.
According to one resident, some of the interest has been ‘a bit gross’. The resident claimed he felt ’patronised’ by the number of visitors to the 100 per cent social housing scheme.
Film-maker Joe Harrington, who the paper stated lives in a two-bed home with his partner and two young children, said that, while he was pleased that people wanted to see the project, he questioned whether enough respect was being shown. ‘Yes we live in really nice places but that doesn’t mean we are here to be gawped at,’ he said.
The paper also reported that Norwich City Council had been ‘inundated with requests from other councils’ since the scheme’s victory earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Mikhail Riches had been contacted by ‘designers worldwide who wanted to visit Norwich’s newest attraction,’ it reported.
The council was said to be preparing guided tours, perhaps every two months, for other councils that wish to see the project. Architects, councillors and officers would talk visitors through the project although such is the demand that places may be rationed.
Andrew Turnbull, the council’s housing development manager who commissioned the scheme, told The Guardian: ’We have been contacted by an awful lot of local authorities who are saying they want to bring people down en masse,’ he said.
As a result places may have to be rationed to ’a few places per organisation’, he told the paper.
Turnbull told The Guardian that the council could not prevent people from visiting what are public streets. ’There are lots of people just wandering around taking photos. None of the residents have complained so far, but we recognise it could become an issue for them in the long term. We have a lot of goodwill at the moment from residents and we don’t want to lose that.’
Gail Harris, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, told the paper: ‘We are aware of the impact that this attention could have on our residents and we are trying to manage visits when we know about them.’
Harrington is the only resident quoted in the article and it is unclear if his views are supported by neighbours. He told The Guardian: ’‘I strongly believe this place should be admired and people should come and revel in the achievement and see that council housing can be good and affordable.’
But he said some of the interest from visitors and media had been patronising. ‘It’s a bit like, “I bet you’re so grateful”. I appreciate that it’s rare and we’re lucky, but they are not in a position to tell us we’re lucky. I find some of the interest a bit gross.’
He added: ‘I appreciate that this is not my property and the council have a right to bring visitors. And so long as it is not a freak show to look at how the poor live, it’s fine. But visitors need to remember these are people’s homes.’
A spokesperson for Mikhail Riches said: ‘Since winning the RIBA Stirling Prize and the Neave Brown Award for Housing, Goldsmith Street has been the focus of increased attention. We are thrilled it has received such recognition and interest, and we’re delighted the development, and its social and environmental credentials are being celebrated.’
However that joy was tempered with concern for local residents. The spokesperson said: ‘We’re respectful that – first and foremost – these are homes, and we hope that everyone will be mindful of that. We know they are being enjoyed as intended by the residents, and we’re hugely grateful to them for the support they’ve consistently shown to us.’
A Norwich Council spokesperson said: ‘Everyone is very proud that Goldsmith Street continues to receive such a high level of recognition and interest.
‘Goldsmith Street is public land and, while we have not actively invited media representatives to the development, we have been sure to advise anyone asking to visit to respect that this is a residential area.
We urge visitors to respect the privacy of the residents and be mindful that these are people’s homes
‘Any group visits that we do organise will be limited to relevant professionals and will not involve going into people’s properties.’
The RIBA also called for residents’ privacy to be respected. ‘While the scheme should be celebrated and admired as exemplary new housing, we urge visitors to respect the privacy of the residents and be mindful of the fact that these are people’s homes,’ a spokesperson said.
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