The Raining’s Stairs Development


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Ark Estates

Architect or lead designer:

Trail Architects

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Highland Housing Alliance

Project Description

The Raining’s Stairs development is reinvigorating this important part of Inverness; replacing a long-vacant ‘problem’ site with a building of significant architectural quality and profound, transformational benefits to the community. The building comprises 16 affordable housing units and a small commercial unit. It was completed in October 2018.

The site has a long and interesting history; it was part of medieval Inverness. The stairs are a core path through the city linking Inverness Castle to the surrounding neighbourhood. The once-vibrant area centred around the stairs had a healthy mix of shops and housing, but fell into decline since the 1970’s. Gradually the site became a blight on the city, becoming notorious for anti-social behaviour.

Over the years planning applications were granted but never progressed due to the challenging nature of the site. The Raining’s Stairs link low and high parts of Inverness over a significant level change.

A local developer, Ark Estates, worked closely with a design team led by Trail Architects, along with The Highland Council, Highland Housing Alliance and contractor William Gray Construction – to unlock the site. The design process was informed by this collaborative relationship enabling all parties to work together, so that respective priorities could be successfully addressed.

The building’s design alleviated concerns within parts of the community and the local authority who were rightfully interested in the character of the proposals – given the prominence of the site, its location within a Conservation Area and the historic importance of the Stairs. The site looks towards, and is overlooked by, Inverness Castle. Consequently, it was important to consult local conservation groups throughout the project.

The architecture takes cues from the historic, traditional character of the area, while using contemporary materials and detailing – creating a progressive and optimistic presence, while being sympathetic to its context.

The design was informed by rigorous urban and technical analysis, so the constraints and opportunities presented by the site could be fully understood and exploited. The critical issues were the steeply sloped topography and very limited access.

The proposal focussed on maximising integration with the existing stairs and surrounding public realm. This enhances connections to the unique history of the site – stitching the development in to the historic city. This approach is also much more practical – fewer stairs within the development simplify access considerably, and most flats escape directly to ground level in the event of fire.

The massing of the proposal is based on traditional pitched-roof forms, arranged to sit comfortably alongside neighbouring buildings – particularly when viewed from the Castle. The increasing height of the building responds to the sloping site. The result is a scheme which gives enough accommodation to make the proposal viable, without being over-developed. The project utilised efficient off-site fabrication wherever possible, it is technically proficient, and environmentally sustainable.

The key focus of the project, which appears to have been successfully achieved, was to revitalise the site, and by association to make profound and lost-lasting positive impact on this part of Inverness.

Supporting Statement

The project was completed in October 2018 and has already transformed this corner of Inverness. The site was a blight on the city – anti-social behaviour made it a no-go area, causing detrimental impacts to adjacent businesses and the broader community. This development is changing that. David Traill from angling and shooting equipment shop, J Graham & Co on Castle Street, said:

“We are very excited about the new Raining’s Stairs development which has regenerated what used to be an almost derelict part of the city. It’s great to see such massive improvements as well as new blood coming into the area.”

Café 1’s Norman MacDonald: “We very much welcome the new development. It is already making a huge difference to the area and this entrance to Castle Street is much more attractive. It brings a freshness and vibrancy to this part of the city that is long overdue.”

Improved lighting and passive surveillance from the building to the historic Stairs will create a safer environment. A listed building which was derelict after a fire has been refurbished to a very high standard and will shortly be occupied by an adjacent business, and a new commercial unit has been provided within the development.

The response to the project has been extremely positive. This is an example of how a committed, hard-working group of clients, contractors, and designers can work together to create something which is truly transformative. The Raining’s Stairs development is a key element within the overall city centre regeneration and transformation.

Fraser Grieve, Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) Highlands and Islands Regional Director said:

“It’s a great development on a very constrained site, helping utilise land that had laid derelict for far too long. This is making a major contribution to the regeneration of this part of the city centre which can only be good for the local economy. It’s also helping address the shortage of affordable housing in the centre of Inverness.”