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SpaceInvader encourage collaboration at BCO Award-winning Riverside House

When the workplace scheme for national urban regenerator, Muse Developments at Riverside House in Salford, was announced the winner of the Fit Out of Workplace category at the BCO Northern Awards 2020, we knew we had to cross the city border from Manchester and have a look.

17/03/2021 6 min read

Project Team

  • Client

    Muse Developments

  • Designer


  • Contractor


  • Project Manager


  • M & E

    Hannan Associates

  • Flooring

    Ege Carpets, Havwoods

  • Surfaces


  • Lighting

    M3 Industries

  • Blinds & Curtains

    Silent Gliss

  • Artwork

    Ann Myron Quinn

The 540 sq m scheme was designed by SpaceInvader, for whom this constitutes a third BCO Northern Awards title in the space of three years – having been double winners in 2018 with Hilson Moran in the Innovation category, and Number One Kirkstall Forge in the Commercial Workplace category.

Riverside House, built in the 1860s, is a Grade II-listed building, adjacent to the old railway goods yard at New Bailey in Salford and located directly alongside the River Irwell. The building was locally listed but had stood in ruins for a number of years, before being acquired by the English Cities Fund for re-development. The main building structure was heavily damaged and the decision was taken by the fund to retain and repair the existing brick façade and construct a new, four-storey CAT A office with a brand new structure. Muse then took the decision to relocate to Riverside House and signed a lease agreement with the fund.

‘We really needed to understand the thinking of the senior team and so interviewed the firm’s project managers, office director and central staff,’ John Williams, Founder of SpaceInvader, explains. ‘The process was very open, thorough and also two-way. Muse were as interested in the thinking behind our questions as we were in their answers. The great thing was that we’d covered everything in such depth that, by the time we got to space planning, there couldn’t have been any other solution. The final designs were entirely rational, as well as being intuitive and responsive.’

Sustainability and waste reduction were also major aims of the project, whilst the concept also needed to reflect the building’s proximity to water and nature – with views, biophilia and outdoor decking all key.

‘What was great is that SpaceInvader helped us establish the brief. We needed to reflect our brand and ethos, but John and the team helped us to write the brief too, so it was a really interesting process’, Phil Marsden, Project Manager at Muse Developments, says. ‘The most important bit about working with SpaceInvader was the process in the first couple of months – the interviews, the questionnaires and the site visits, during which they really got to know us, our brand and both how we used to work and the changes in working methods we wanted to bring in.’

The intent for the new office was to allow the Muse team to move to an agile way of working, where desks were not allocated to individuals. Desks would be clear at the end of each day, with belongings stored in a locker. The overarching rationale was to provide colleagues with different places to work, which were better suited to their tasks, whilst encouraging collaboration. By identifying the differing needs of all colleagues, the team was given options of where to work, knowing this may change again in the future as the business and the demographic of future employees evolve.

The riverside location was also key to the design. Views of the river from Riverside House and the river’s effect on the surrounding city are at the heart of the concept. ‘The connection to the outside influenced all the spaces and proximity to the perimeter and natural daylight was a driving factor in the space planning of both floors,’ John explains. ‘The abstract concept of the river and riverbed was translated into the scheme through a mix of natural colour tones and horizontal layering of materials. The detail is particularly important, because the vast majority of the space is very clean and simple. There are block colours and clean lines throughout, with ‘hints of sunshine.’ This is introduced by timber accents in the joinery and furniture, whilst the layering creates a depth within the scheme, as well as replicating the layers of strata that make up a riverbed.’

SpaceInvader liaised with the building’s refurbishment architects to ensure the design reduced waste as well as rendering the perfect space plan. For example, chilled beams and lighting units were moved to suit the meeting room layout and floor grilles moved to suit desk layouts. This minimised cost, disruption and also waste. There were also some specific enhancements requested by Muse to allow the CAT A design to blend seamlessly with the fit-out design. The wall linings have been uplifted in a number of locations and a slatted timber finish has been created for the perimeter walls of the open plan floorplate, lending a domestic feel to the finished palette, whilst arched window linings help frame views out towards Salford.

The internal space planning of Muse’s two floors – the second and third – was thoroughly considered. The areas that captured the best views have been reserved for the most active environments, such as shared desk space, the project room and staff kitchen. Alongside this, the floors have been addressed differently in terms of function and atmosphere, with the second floor providing an open plan workspace with its adjoining alternative settings and the third floor providing a visitor/client experience.

All areas, including common parts, were designed using durable materials and intentionally viewed holistically alongside the base build finishes to give a consistent language, ensuring fit-out and building character and identity, whilst the clear floor-to-ceiling layout is in excess of the BCO-recommended 2.8m, thanks to the slab height of the existing building.

On the second floor, a variety of work settings blend as they wrap around the building core. Project spaces and communal quiet spaces flank the edges with flexible, openable partitions allowing engagement with the open plan area if required. A landscape of moveable furniture and partition options supports wider working practices, maximising natural daylight and views, whilst ancillary support functions are practical and placed close to the core.

The circulation on the third floor is logical, clear and precise. The underlying principle was to ensure the adaptability and flexibility of spaces. The client lounge adopts this philosophy. From the core, clients and the Muse team enter into an open, relaxed lounge and informal meeting space. This, in turn, is connected to both the outdoor terrace and the staff kitchen area. Views out to the landscape and river are enhanced with the introduction of a feature ceiling, designed to capture the very essence of the Salford weather and surrounding views. Aesthetically, the feature represents the formation of clouds, with fully controllable LED luminaires enabling the ceiling either to complement or contrast with the external environment, creating an instant connection to external aspects. Access out onto the terrace has been enhanced with a wider, outwardly swinging door, complete with a hold open mechanism, which allows these three spaces to flow seamlessly during social events.

Living planting throughout the space reflects the recognised and important aspect of biophilic design within the workplace. This is not only with air-purifying qualities and reduction of potential pollutants in mind, but also because the visibility of planting openly promotes employee wellbeing. Additionally, stand-up desks allow colleagues to stand whilst working and move around throughout the day, while fresh fruit and lunches are provided free of charge to encourage socialising and encouraging users to move away from their desks.

The SpaceInvader team also reached out to Manchester-based independent artists to create feature commissions within the space. In addition, the team commissioned a local art photographer to celebrate the area through a series of location-specific photographic artworks. These feature within the meeting rooms around a theme of ‘Manchester pubs’.

The project has revolutionised the way Muse works. The rationale was simple: this new office should make a statement about Muse’s approach to innovative, regenerative development and its commitment to the region, whilst seizing the opportunity to embrace a new way of working. By paying homage to Salford through its landscape, urban grain and engaging with its people, such as local artists, a further dimension has been added to this building as it starts a new chapter.

‘Within weeks of moving in, the Muse team was moving around the office, using the different spaces and collaborating with different people. The new agility has been a huge success,’ John says.

‘We’ve ended up with a fairly unique office. Everyone loves the look of it. I know everyone says that, but everyone who comes to the office genuinely does love it’, Phil concludes.

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