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Napier Street

Napier Street is a narrow lane of small Victorian terrace houses surrounded by larger scale commercial 20C retail and office buildings in the centre of Cambridge. The street overlooks an old churchyard which gives the street a welcome sense of space and light. The area of the site behind the frontage was historically an industrial yard and includes a large basement which extends the length of the site.

In the 1980’s the site was converted into a small development of commercial and retail units. This development had not aged well, it was not sympathetic to the surrounding character of the street, it looked tired and dated and was no longer commercially viable. The large basement on the site was being used as a nightclub which was having a significantly adverse impact on the surrounding residential area. The ground level public spaces between the retail and office units were narrow, gloomy and damp.

The brief, to convert the development into attractive high quality apartments, was a great challenge. The target was to achieve fourteen one and two bedroom apartments. This would include the reuse of the majority of buildings on the site, with an additional storey added to the rear wing against the eastern boundary.

The existing building did not achieve the current acoustic, fire and environmental standards. The design team were required to thoroughly survey the existing buildings and assess which elements of the buildings’ fabric should be demolished and which could be reused. This had to be considered in conjunction with the aesthetic decisions concerning the external appearance of the proposal, and decisions around how the new spaces might be carved out of the existing building fabric. The design team were able to work closely with the client so that the cost / value of each intervention could be assessed alongside the architectural considerations. This was a thoroughly collaborative process.

Through this process the design team were able to explore imaginative and innovative ways to transform the buildings. The objective was to:

- open up the spaces to get space and light into the development
- create a positive vertical connection between the ground floor and the basement spaces to bring daylight into these areas
- restore the streetscape of Napier Street where the existing building jutted out over the footway
- form a route of well connected, bright, light and beautifully landscaped external spaces which could form a heart and central focus to the development
- explore ways to manage privacy between these communal spaces and the apartments whilst maximising daylight.
transform the external appearance of the buildings.

Photos by Richard Fraser