Prior to the advent of satellite television at the tail end of the 1980s, there were only two serious players vying for the attention of the great British public – BBC and ITV. Much like the two-party political system before focus groups and image-managers diluted it, audiences knew where they stood with both. Licence-payer-funded Auntie was expected to “educate and inform” and developed a mildly stuffy reputation, while its commercially driven rival could never quite shake off its less intellectual tag. Although the proliferation of channels further dented ITV’s audience share, it remains a familiar voice on the TV landscape. Which is why, following the BBC’s unprecedented £1bn move to Salford, it was crucial that ITV joined them. Otherwise, the slightly cliquey MediaCityUK moniker would ring very hollow indeed.
On paper it appeared much easier to shift the workforce a few miles down the road than convince London-based journos and their families to troop halfway up the country. But, as with everything, the reality was a little more complicated. For 57 years the broadcaster operated from Granada Studios in Manchester’s Quay Street. Despite its cellular layout, the building had a potent emotional pull, producing internationally acclaimed shows like Brideshead Revisited from its basement studios. ITV was primed to move into a spec office building at MediaCityUK with few of these broadcasting tools, and tasked with smoothing this migration was ID:SR – the interior architecture arm of Sheppard Robson. Headed up by Helen Berresford, the practice has honed itself a name as the experts in designing for broadcasters, delivering projects for Channel 4 and the BBC’s offices in Salford. onoffice met Berresford in the slick corporate reception of Orange Tower (the building itself was also designed by Sheppard Robson) before jetting up to the sixth floor – the top floor of the three that ITV occupies.
“At one point it was felt we were too aligned with the BBC and Channel 4 but we knew the brief was to make it feel like ITV, which is a massively different story,” says Berresford. “Media is changing and the digital world is very much upon us. Moving lock stock and barrel to somewhere meant that [ITV] could rethink working practices. And although there were efficiencies and space savings it was as much about bringing the organisation together.” It’s all part of One ITV, an initiative that company communications manager Amanda-Jane Read says aims to establish the brand on a global as opposed to regional level.
Rather perversely, this lofty goal has manifested itself in a massive injection of cash into regional news, which goes live from the fifth floor in the one substantial TV studio in the building. Our tour, however, begins with the number crunchers on the sixth floor. Thanks to the raw finishes, it feels anything other than a finance department, and Berresford reveals that accounts needed to feel better connected to the business they worked in, so the aesthetic is consistent with the more creative departments. The desks are arranged in a fairly perfunctory manner but there is a nice segue into the kitchen/dining area near the core – all collaborative spaces and meeting rooms are situated at the office’s centre. Allied to this informal space is a small, tastefully furnished breakout area tucked into a glazed corner. The kitchen doubles as a meeting room, and can be sealed off, if necessary, by colourful curtains.
Far from a cheap echo of the industrial buildings colonised by media types in east London, the exposed ceiling is admirably functional, with light fittings and TV screens suspended from bespoke metal frames. “It was about making it feel like a studio,” says Berresford. “We were trying to create a landscape into which you could put stage sets.” For these sets the practice called on local joiners Blue Aardvark to make some freestanding MDF and plywood structures which are used as dividers, to create intimate railway carriage-style meeting areas and lockers, which support the behavioural change that ITV was after. “No one has a pedestal. We’re not hot-desking, but flexible desking, so staff have areas rather than fixed desks,” says Read. “Staff who have never seen each other before now meet up.”
Previously impossible owing to the Granada Studios building’s silo-like environment, this mix is bolstered by positioning the staff canteen on the middle floor. Overlooking the canal and Imperial War Museum North, even the most trenchant departments chow down in here. The largest (and most rambunctious) of these is the Jeremy Kyle Show, who are indulged with their own segregated area – a move that undoubtedly drew a relieved exhale from the rest of the office. It’s empty today (the team are on holiday) but a Marie Celeste feel is not unusual even during term time: ITV leases TV studios in a building opposite, and correspondingly, teams swell and contract depending on filming schedules. In this regard Berresford and her team have grasped broadcasting’s increasingly multi-faceted nature and designed accordingly. “Content has become much more varied and so the link between production and your office is now much greater. Production is not always in a TV studio. The lighting and curtain rails give a studio feel, but the colour palettes in here are so strong they come across well digitally, so you can also film in here.”
One of the main frustrations with the old Granada building was the anonymity of the newsroom. Buried deep in a labyrinth of rooms, no one outside of the staff really knew where it was. Here, it is brought centre stage on the fourth floor, with Libeskind’s sculptural war museum forming a distinctive backdrop for the local bulletins while journalists are arranged circularly nearby. The sales department and children’s television are also here, and some small model TV sets are exhibited in glass cases, connecting the offices with the end product. Tucked away at the rear of the building are the post-production studios, which demand a highly focused approach. The one problem area is the reception, which, with no desk, lacks a clear definition. Read confirms ITV is considering a kind of maître d’ service to usher visitors towards the nearby couches.
The only other questionable element is the nod to ITV’s heritage. Many of the meeting rooms are named after TV shows or Manchester’s cultural icons – one can thrash out a contract with a troublesome starlet in the Hacienda, for example. As the BBC found in London, it is tricky to imbue a new building with a spirit of the old when the protagonists have only just moved in. That said, ID:SR has hit the most important notes in creating a flexible and dynamic environment for a company with renewed enthusiasm for the digital universe. That the practice pulled it off aided by well-constructed but decidedly low-tech joinery adds a pleasing irony.
On 29 November, onoffice and B&B Italia will host Designing for the Media, a presentation and panel discussion delving behind the scenes at the BBC and Channel 4 headquarters. We will hear from Helen Berresford, head of ID:SR, and Claire McPoland, interior designer at HOK, who will present their recent landmark projects for these leading broadcasters and explore the rollercoaster that is designing a workplace for a media giant.
The talk will start at 6.30pm on Thursday 29 November at B&B Italia, 250 Brompton Road, London SW3 2AS
The Magic Circle. The somewhat aromatic nickname given to the top five law practices in the country. Unsurprisingly, the big guns all reside in the capital, inhabiting gleaming corporate edifices in Canary Wharf and the City – and amid the excitement of working in a global hub it is easy to forget there is life outside London. A timely reminder, then, comes in the cultured form of ID:SR’s fit-out for Bristol-based law firm Burges Salmon. In reality, fit-out fails to do the undertaking justice. ID:SR provided, in their own words, a “comprehensive range of services”: helping the client pick a building, conducting spatial analyses and surveys, consulting on interior design and art, and advising the base build architect Stride Treglown. Beginning way back in 2004, the project finally came to fruition late last year. Until this point Burges Salmon had been clinging on to Narrow Key House – an ageing building that, despite a recent facelift, could no longer play the romantic lead. “Internally, the planning was not very efficient,” says ID:SR’s Andrew German. “There were too many staff and it become a logistical nightmare.”
It fell to ID:SR to find a suitable alternative and it earmarked four options, including the existing building, but eventually plumped for a new-build by Stride Treglown in the multimillion Temple Quays Central development. The site was initially viewed with scepticism – it is severed from the city centre by the a ring road – and one partner threatened, one hopes in jest, to kill himself if Burges Salmon moved there. However, the physical obstacles proved deceptive. It is close to a train station and sits on the edge of the canal. Another major factor was the planning permission in place for Stride’s Treglown’s building, One Glass Wharf. It was, therefore, deemed the sensible option. One Glass Wharf was essentially a speculative development so ID:SR worked with the architects to tweak the design to fit Burges Salmon’s needs. Most prominent was the separate client entrance – a concept seen in some quarters as a little antiquated. The entrance reflects, though, the range of Burges Salmon’s work, which on any day can include a high-profile divorce and dealings with landowners or corporate bods. “The hierarchy is for the clients, to make them feel special,” explains German. “You need to ensure those people are not exposed to the whole office.”The client entrance is signified by a branded glowing box on the south elevation of the building. Once inside, clients are greeted at a stone-clad reception desk illuminated by a backlit box. Strips of light reflected across the floor imbue the space with an almost ambient quality. The calming aesthetic is repeated once the clients arrive on the fifth floor (the client floor). By employing familiar architectural lingo ID:SR hoped to put visitors at ease. “They didn’t want to compromise on quality on the client floor. While it is a client floor, there is the possibility of people working here for 48, sometimes 72, hours. So the carpet is a higher grade, light fittings and furniture are of a higher quality.” Of course, warring parties could be in building at the same time – so the architect used the natural break in the building to separate plaintiffs. “Each can have their own coffee break space, photocopier etc.”
For those who want to work in private there are three quiet rooms: opaque, coloured-glass boxes near the reception desk. Glass and light were constant themes in the fit-out. The site began life as a glassworks factory, so ID:SR used a variety of striation, light slots and patterns throughout. The results are pleasing to the eye, working best when juxtaposed with the more classical finishes, such as the reception. The showstopper is the atrium, a lengthy affair that tapers as you move north away from the entrance towards Burges Salmon’s library at the far end. Here the eye is drawn upwards by orange, yellow and white geometric strips on the glass. Originally this space was cut off from the ground floor by a pointless partition wall. ID:SR wasted no time in ripping this out, linking it with the ground floor canteen to create a buzzing social hub. The café is next to the entrance, brightly lit by full-height glazing. To prevent a goldfish bowl effect, coloured vinyl strips were added to the glass. A separate lift links the kitchen with a fifth-floor meeting room so legal eagles thrashing out complex cases can be fed and watered away from the hubbub. On the other side of the atrium is a collection of meeting rooms for conferences and the like.Occupying floors one to four are the offices of the fee-earners – or the lawyers in layman’s terms. After long discussions with Burges Salmon’s design committee, open-plan spaces were rejected in favour of cellular offices supported by a central service area. The core was also pulled to the centre, ensuring that every office had a window. “Part of this was staff retention,” says German. “Probably more important is that they have managed to attract some high-profile lawyers from London. It’s sold as a lifestyle choice. You have your own office in a brand new building away from the City.” Styling themselves as the law firm outside London, this is a pretty good gauge of success. This scheme was a lengthy undertaking, having begun seven years ago. But it has been a rewarding one for ID:SR. Rarely does an interior designer get this involved with a project, which was a “cradle to grave” experience, as German puts it. Still, the process was not without its difficulties. The developer went into administration halfway through – testing ID:SR’s diplomacy skills as well as design chops. Strangely, however, the grim economic climate may have worked in the client’s favour – suppliers were falling over themselves, German says, to provide furniture for the fit-out.