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.