Downing Place United Reformed Church
A hidden oasis in the centre of the city
This project in central Cambridge followed the joining together of two churches to form Downing Place URC in June 2018, and the disposal of the second building. The site, previously known as St Columba’s, is made up of three overlapping rectangles – the church and two halls – in the form of a zigzag; this made the circulation confusing and was very wasteful of space. While the church stands prominently on a corner with street frontage on two sides, there were previously no views into the building, the access into it was cramped, and the overall effect off-putting.
However, the building was already well-used by the church and community through the week, and has now been reshaped to better accommodate the life within it. The central hall has been converted into a double-height community hub with café tables and a catering kitchen, and down one side meeting rooms on two levels. From this hub all other parts of the building are accessed. At the back of the site the existing Gibson Hall has been enlarged, and the existing courtyard garden reclaimed to create a hidden oasis in the centre of the city.
At the front, the church has been reordered, with more flexible seating and a new internal room for mid-sized meetings and the ‘NightLite’ drop-in safe space on Saturday nights. New openings have been inserted into the existing Downing Street frontage to allow views into the building from the street and the bus stops opposite, and to allow the life of the building out. A new, more generous and well-lit entrance has been created to Downing Place, providing for the first time an inviting and accessible front door to the church. Wherever possible opportunities have been taken to lower energy usage, including insulating the historic fabric, secondary glazing and photovolatic panels.