The Stirling Prize-winning practice has been crowned Architect of the Year at the 2019 AJ Architecture Awards
Mikhail Riches, working with Cathy Hawley, has achieved something truly remarkable with its low-carbon Goldsmith Street terraced housing scheme in Norwich. And key to that appears to have been pushing the boundaries of what an architect does today.
The practice won the design competition for the project 11 years ago but at that point it was intended to be merely a passive solar scheme. A request from client Norwich City Council that it meet full Passivhaus standards necessitated a huge amount of ingenuity and extra work from the architect. But the challenge was met thanks to key moves such as the project’s clever solar orientation, informed by the practice’s earlier Clay Field scheme in Suffolk.
The success of its projects is partly due to the way it has worked hand-in-glove with both the local authority and the local community
Deep collaboration will be essential if the construction sector is to respond adequately to the climate emergency and here too Mikhail Riches has excelled. The success of Goldsmith Street and other projects, such as its ongoing work at the Park Hill regeneration in Sheffield, is partly due to the way it has worked hand-in-glove with both an ambitious local authority and the local community. It didn’t escape the judges’ notice that practice director David Mikhail is on first-name terms with Goldsmith Street’s residents – a state of affairs that shouldn’t really be worth remarking upon, yet somehow still is.
Mikhail Riches also achieved the ‘unheard of’ feat of being paid by the council to carry out value engineering on the Norwich project under the scheme’s traditional contract. As a result, £2 million was saved on the £14 million project but quality was upheld as the architect found numerous ways to incrementally lower costs without damaging the design. For example, it saved £30,000 by specifying a particular type of Belgian pantile for the roofing which just so happened to echo those found around Norwich.
The practice deserves recognition for a number of other housing schemes, such as Church Walk in Hackney – a Stephen Lawrence Prize finalist in 2013 – and its emerging work for Croydon Council’s development company Brick by Brick.
But it is the Stirling Prize-winning Goldsmith Street that has truly set down a marker for future council housing. Of course, it is a collective achievement. But, with its own essential contribution, Mikhail Riches really is helping to point the way for architects.
Architect of the Year sponsored by