The Foyer Project, North Street, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

The water-front elevation has a colourful, contemporary design and has become a landmark building adjacent to one of the bridges over the River Nene.
©Bob Edwards

Region: East of England

Local Authority: Fenland

Funding Body: Housing Association; Axion

Year of Intervention: 2007

Summary: This development provides both residential and educational facilities for local young people. The scheme combines both contemporary and traditional styles on this important riverside site.


Wisbech is a market town and former inland port in North Cambridgeshire.  The characteristic core of the town lies to the south, the river side formerly being occupied by a series of warehouses.  To the Immediate north is a bridge crossing the river which makes this site particularly prominent.  The characteristic local building material is brick with some buildings being rendered.

Issue: This is a facility for young people aged 17-25, aimed at providing both an affordable home and training.  Whilst a traditional brick building taking the form of a warehouse would have been an obvious solution, it may have been seen as institutional and unattractive to the end users.  However, the scheme had to work with both the established scale and form of North Street to the west, and the riverside frontage which provided a greater opportunity for the use modern materials in a contemporary style.
Strategy: The strategy taken on this development was to use two markedly different styles.  To the street frontage the building reflects the form and scale of a warehouse which allows it to follow the established street-scape of North Street.  The river frontage was less constrained by existing historic buildings and is open to views from across the river and the bridge.  Here a contemporary design has been employed incorporating horizontal timber boarding and large blocks of colour and glazing with a distinctive rounded north end, where the site tapers towards the bridge.

The scheme demonstrates how a large modern building can respond to the local historic environment and established streetscape, preserving the character of the conservation area, and take a highly contemporary form and materials.  The scheme, aimed at young people, makes an exciting statement on the Wisbech waterfront.

Are there aspects of the scheme that could be considered as being less successful?

It is not clear how well the materials used on the waterfront elevations will weather and how much maintenance will be required to keep up the building’s appearance in the long term.


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