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Napier Street

A retrofit conversion of unused1980’s commercial units into 14 apartments within a compact city centre site.  The buildings were transformed by recladding the existing structure in a new external skin of brickwork and high performance glazing. The housing is centred around pedestrianised public amenity spaces which creates the feel of an enclosed mews.


Napier Street is in a central part of the city of Cambridge, in an area of Victorian terrace housing.  With the arrival of the Grafton Centre this historic context was erased by the large singular bulk of this retail complex and subsequent surrounding offices and commercial buildings. 


This development blocked Napier Street to form a cul-de-sac. However, the street itself remains mostly in-tact, with the churchyard forming a pleasing avenue of lime trees along the street. However, the site itself was an anomaly within this context.  The 1980s development of the site into commercial units had been built with hard red engineering bricks forming a stark grid across the elevations. The decaying single glazed windows and glass brick panels, and sharp pointed roof windows appeared out of context and tired and drab. 


A large basement covers most of the footprint of the existing buildings. This is the oldest element on the site, pre- dating the1980s buildings.  By carving some of ground floor slab area out of the studio units, a series of large light wells have been formed to interconnect the ground floor to the basement. This creates a positive connection between these floors and enables the conversion of parts of the basement into habitable rooms.  Where possible the light wells are combined with roof lights to flood the space with natural daylight from above.


Elsewhere, the basement has become a large bicycle storage area, accessed via a cycle platform lift.  This removes the bike area from the ground floor,  freeing up the external spaces for landscaping and shared public communal spaces. 


The bright palette of materials help to enliven the public spaces with an architectural language which is contemporary, yet hints at the light industrial origins of the site. 

Photos by Richard Fraser

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