In 1993 PagePark became involved in the conversion of the grade 1 listed St Francis Church and Friary into a community centre and sheltered housing. In 1997 when the Crown St Regeneration Project were deciding on development teams for phases of the Queen Elizabeth Square masterplan, they gave PagePark the opportunity to extend their work at St Francis Church to the phase D site immedately adjacent, which was to incorporate private housing, a private outdoor space for the community centre and a public square along Cumberland Street.The project was subsequently named Friary Court.
The existing friary sheltered housing to the east of the church was arranged around a formal square courtyard. In looking for ways of arranging the new housing to the west various options were looked at which tried to evoke a formal monastic, or even collegiate courtyard environment. Eventually the semi-circular arc emerged as it had a geometric formality complementing the friary and created the best fit within the site, opening up a space at the end of Erroll Gardens to sweep into the new mews lane, St Francis Rigg, and creating a breathing space between the housing and the church on Cumberland St. This formality was further enhanced by breaking down the circular block into 7 equal wedged blocks enabling a consistency of form to the courtyard.
The wedge shape plan was exaggerated to open up the spaces between the blocks and narrow the elevations to the church to the point that, on the church side, the development was seen as a series of villa blocks, while at the street it appeared as a continuous tenement. The possibilities of this arrangement for repetition and sectional completion also appealed to the developers, Miller Homes. Layouts lent themselves to accommodating 3 units per floor with a central stair accessible via a path in the gaps between the blocks through a controlled-entry entrance gate. This gave the residents and passers-by the opportunity to glimpse the communal gardens and church before entering the block. Overall there are 71 dwellings comprising mainly two-bedroom flats, with 8 one-bedroom gallery flats and 7 three-bedroom maisonettes.
St Francis church has a massive presence in the surrounding streets and the challenge was to find a building expression that resonated with the church without being diminished by it. Monopitch roofs were employed to raise the scale of the building to both the church and street enabling a number of gallery ‘duplex’ flats to be created at the top levels. Along St Francis Rigg the monopitch roofs are flipped to bring the scale down to the required 2-3 storeys of the masterplan. Elevations are of buff brick with buff mortar to evoke the monolithic quality of the stone beyond and are broken up by large window screen strips forming a staggered pattern across the façade. To the street these create asymmetric horizontal compositons on each block, which, when mirrored, tie the individual blocks together to form a larger composition. To the church the screens run vertically chiming with the rhythm of the church oriel windows. Panels of coloured render have been introduced adjacent to the close entrances to differentiate each close and polished granite has been indented at close gates to enhance the entrance spaces.
Levels have been manipulated across the site to enable the ground floor units to main streets to be raised up to 600mm above pavement level and the church garden 900mm above the level of the housing garden, creating a balcony relationship between the two spaces. This also enables step-free access between the church and the garden. A 1400mm high granite-grey pre-cast concrete planter wraps around the street elevation to create a buffer between the ground floor windows and the street. It is planned that the section of Cumberland St nearest the development will be closed to traffic and will be stone-paved to form a public piazza to the church.