Symons House: 74 designs student living at its finest
London and Scottish Student Housing enlisted award-winning interiors and architecture practice 74 to create a hospitality-inspired student living experience in the heart of Leeds.
We’ve come to Salford’s Exchange Quay (for those familiar with the area, you can’t have failed to notice it, seeing as it has a giant orange arrow literally pointing it out on the adjacent roundabout) to look at the reworking of Building 3. There is, however, one slight problem.
Note Design Studio, Hay, Pedrali, Muuto
Corian, Formica, Camira, Vescom, KABE
As we walk through this eclectic collection of workplace buildings, we can see just about every number other than ‘3’. Thankfully, before we start to question our own sanity, we do spot Rachel Withey from architects and designers 74, who is stood in front of an unnumbered building, busily texting someone (that would be us!).
Rachel’s text says that Building 3 is no longer called Building 3, but is now known simply as ICE.
Fortunately, by way of explanation – and also to put this project into context – Rachel walks us beyond ICE and on to Building 7, which is next door but one. Incidentally, Tom Bloxham’s yellow and black Urban Splash HQ – Boat Shed – sits directly opposite.
Building 7 is pretty much the twin building of (the building formerly known as) 3, and we can immediately see, by comparing the exterior of the two 90s buildings, that a little exterior facelift goes a very long way. Looking back at ICE, we can see that the start of this dramatic transformation is actually a relatively simple removal of the awning, which is now replaced by a dramatic bright blue square arch and fresh ICE branding. Like we said, relatively simple but incredibly effective and transformative.
‘Looking at this sister-space really did give us a lot of ideas as to how we could work with ICE’, Rachel says, ‘and help transform it into a more welcoming and attractive environment.’
We’re told that this is very much a return to Exchange Quay for some of the designers at 74, who had previously worked with the original clients to revamp the whole tenant experience by creating a new public plaza, reorganising the vehicle and pedestrian flows and enhancing the amenities by way of a post office, canteen, creche and bike store, which includes showers and changing facilities.
The development – which is, in total, a 435,000 sq ft facility – is perfectly positioned on the edge of Salford Quays and Media City.
74 was appointed by Ekistics to develop the personality of 3 Exchange Quay to the next level and appeal to tenants looking for class-leading Grade A space within a pedestrian-friendly environment, complete with coffee shop, restaurant, creche, cycle stores, changing rooms and communal social spaces.
The Manchester-based practice worked with Ekistics and Hunter REIM to develop a design strategy, which underpins the future asset management of the complex and enables the offer to stay current and appealing to an ever-demanding tenant base.
As part of the phased refurbishment of office space, 74 was instructed on Building 3 (now ICE), which sits on the central street running through the development. This 26,000 sq ft, six-storey building offers generous floorplates and excellent daylighting, served by a central circulation core.
We were very conscious of the type of business Exchange Quay might attract – and that’s a real cross-section, from finance through to retailers
Walking back to the future that is ICE, we soon see that 74 has designed a radically different ground floor arrival space, which now acts as a place to meet, work, socialise and relax. ‘It’s not a massive space but what we have done here is quite transformative,’ Rachel tells us. ‘What we previously had here at the entrance was a bicycle store with storage and changing room on one side and an unloved meeting room on the other side, which was never used and had its door almost pushed under the stairs.
‘Structurally, we really had to work with what we had. In its time, this was probably quite hi-spec but we did look at a lot of the things that had been done here and wondered why! Then, at some point, somebody gave this a lick of paint – somebody who was clearly in a ‘pink phase’!’
The client decided that they didn’t want a bulky, manned reception desk, which helped open up the space. The original plan was to open everything up, but the designers couldn’t actually do that because of fire regulations. Instead, they pushed everything back and took the new balustrade up to the first floor, which gives it all a much more open, fresh look. They also reappointed the stairs, with a new up-to-date feel, and then opened up the meeting room. Here, 74 put in clear glazing to open the room up and get views going both ways. One of the biggest challenges was the ceiling height – there wasn’t any! 74 worked with the M&E guys to move all the kit away from the ceiling and give a little bit more height. The client wanted an exposed, industrial feel to the space, but the design team fought back on that a little, feeling an industrial look might look completely out of place. A compromise was found where 74 added elements of that raw, industrial feel, but also kept a more sophisticated look for much of the building.
‘We were very conscious of the type of business Exchange Quay might attract – and that’s a real cross-section, from finance through to retailers’, Rachel added. ‘This isn’t an old mill in Ancoats – this is a 90s building with amazing, massive floorplates.’
With this in mind, the ground floor meeting room perfectly blends exposed, raw elements, with luxurious, classical finishes, and would be a perfect boardroom facility for any business in any sector.
Moving back across the open ground floor space, Rachel points out that, by opening the back of the building up, a couple of car parking spaces have been lost – which was quite a big argument to win. We’re assured, however, that there is plenty of car parking still available for prospective tenants – something we hardly consider in city centres! On the other side of the space, we find something we weren’t quite expecting: an area that started with a brief for a fairly typical coworking-style space, which then became a coffee shop – and finally morphed into a fully licensed bar! A second entrance was added, so that the space became open to everyone, not just the tenants here at ICE.
‘The whole concept moved really quickly. It’s a really, nice, calm space – and will really add to the Exchange Quay offering’, Rachel explained.
Rachel hasn’t finished with the surprises though, leading us up a staircase at the rear of the bar and up to a second floor! The funky, open space offers an amazing collaborative element, allowing Exchange Quay’s tenants to come together to relax, socialise and work together. Again, we see a clever combination of exposed, raw materials and smart finishes and furniture – including some fantastic light fittings.
The 74 team has also designed a range of office suites on the floors above, which will, as touched upon earlier, certainly appeal to a cross-section of tenants wanting a Grade A workplace environment.
The large, open floorplates provide a perfect blank canvas, with great views and fantastic levels of natural light. Certain design aspects of Building 3 might have been outdated by today’s standards – but in its new guise as ICE, the building very much meets modern demands.
‘We’ve been asked to look at Building 8 next, as part of what is a bigger masterplan of work for Exchange Quay.’ Rachel tells us as we admire the views. ‘This really is a fantastic out-of-town site, with great links and communications. A lot of people live out in south Manchester – and this is a really appealing place to come to work. It’s really starting feel as though it has its own community here.’
One thing’s for certain, ICE will only help foster that community feel. We have a feeling we’ll be coming back to Exchange Quay pretty soon.
This really is a fantastic out of- town site, with great links and communications
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