Case study: Raining’s Stairs

What is the history of the building, monument or area?

The Raining’s Stair’s site has a long and interesting history, and was originally 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 and had a healthy mix of shops and housing, but fell into decline since the 1970s. 

How did the project begin and what community need(s) was it seeking to address?

Gradually the site became a blight on the city, becoming notorious for anti-social behaviour in the city centre. Over the years planning applications were granted but never progressed due to the challenging nature of the site. 

The Raining’s Stairs development reinvigorates an important part of Inverness. The development has replaced a long-vacant site, which had suffered from considerable anti-social behaviour, with a building of significant architectural quality and profound, transformational benefits to the community. The building, which comprises 16 affordable housing units and a small commercial unit, was completed in October 2018 and has been received very positively by the client, residents, and the local community.

How did the project progress from inception to delivery? What obstacles did you overcome and what were the major milestones?

The project was developed collaboratively with the clients, Highland Housing Alliance and Highland Council, and the design team, led by Trail Architects, to unlock the full potential of the site, which is opposite Inverness Castle and presents great views across the city.

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 proposals focussed on maximising integration with the existing stairs, enhancing connections to the unique history of the site and simplifying access to the residential properties. 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 terraced heights of the building respond to the sloping site so that the gabled roofs appear to cascade down the slope. The result is a scheme which gives enough accommodation to make the proposal viable, without being over-developed.

Engaging the significant level change (27m), and very limited site access was critical. This was managed by creating terraces to carry steel platforms, upon which the timber kit superstructure was placed. Crucially, extensive off-site construction and pre-fabrication simplified the construction programme. The use of lightweight materials in cladding the walls and roofs create a sharp, attractive façade which was quick to install.

What has been the impact of the project on the community? 

The project has already transformed this key central location within Inverness. The site was a blight on the city and anti-social behaviour made it a no-go area, causing detrimental impacts to adjacent businesses and the broader community. This development is changing that.

Improved lighting and passive surveillance from the building to the historic Stairs has created a safer environment for residents. Further to this a listed building at the foot of the site, which was derelict after a fire, has been refurbished to a very high standard and is now 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.

What’s next for your project? 

The Raining’s Stairs project has proved to be very successful since its completion, and it is intended that the properties will continue to be rented through the mid-market rent scheme well into the future.

To learn more about Raining’s Stairs, visit the Highland Housing Alliance website.