Rooms with a view


By Craig Cullimore

The Alfred Street apartments celebrate Oxford’s views from near and afar

When poet Matthew Arnold gazed back on Oxford from Boars Hill in 1865 he described it as the ‘city of dreaming spires’ – an expression that has become an internationally recognised rubric for Oxford and its renowned University.

Walk through Oxford’s historic centre and you’ll pass architecturally significant buildings (over 1,500 are listed) that tell the story of the city’s heritage from Saxon times to the present day. Individual buildings of variegated heights and forms combine to create a harmonious panorama that gives the viewer a sense of the city. Introducing bulky and insensitive elements could undermine this essential character.

Protecting views and significant aspects within the city, and views from afar, is one way of managing change and protecting a person’s ocular encounter with the city. This however needs to be carefully balanced against the needs of its residents, who live their everyday lives between these monuments.

Oxford’s residents need more housing, and this shortage has seen an increasing trend for compact city-centre apartments. On Alfred Street, ADP cleverly converted and extended a 1960s office building into light-filled compact apartments that capitalise upon some of Oxford’s much eulogised views. Equally, the contemporary penthouse rooftop extension has been designed to lessen the impact on the city’s historic skyline.

The restrictions of the existing building’s concrete frame with a 4.5 metre structural grid, turned a constraint into an opportunity. Every inch of usable space has been cleverly exploited to create 15 apartments that are deceptively spacious.


Small studio flats are nothing new, but a small 35 sqm flat with a separate bedroom and windows within this restricted space is rare. The integration of winter gardens enabled the bedroom to be positioned at the back of the apartments, so that the lounge and bedroom could benefit from natural light and ventilation. This configuration also reduces noise penetration from the surrounding city streets. A neutral colour scheme and floor to ceiling glazing also increases the feeling of spaciousness, with space maximised by built-in storage and loose furniture.

The rooftop extension provides three-bedroom penthouse apartments with their own private terraces. Located within 1200 metres of Carfax Tower the roof extension could not be higher than 18.2 metres.

The concept for the roof extension was of an origami form, which folds between wall, roof and bay windows. The form and massing were informed by rights of light angles taken from the opposite buildings; and the architectural language borrows from other seamed mansard roof top constructions in Oxford, but is contemporary in expression.

Oxford’s planning rules also stipulate that ridge lines need to be broken up, and this is achieved with three roof lights that provide light into the spaces below. Slots in the zinc cladding gives the tenants of the two penthouse apartments views of some of Oxford’s most significant historic buildings.


A city must constantly evolve to thrive, and building development within the city must respect its urban grain and character, but also meet the demands of a modern society. The Alfred Street development adds another layer of history in the physical timeline of the city, creating a new community of residents that enjoy the convenience of living in a desirable city centre location.

‘It’s rare to find such a well-considered development in such a central position and we have been delighted with how well they have been received.” Greg Barnes, Managing Director Lettings, Brecon and Brecon.




Craig Cullimore

Craig Cullimore

Craig joined ADP in 1997. With diverse experience of a range of building
types in both the public and private sectors, Craig is particularly
adept at working on projects
within sensitive locations.