6 min read
10 Dec 2021

Banking on it – SGP designs resplendent Hull office space in Grade II listed ex-bank

By Alan Soper

Stephen George + Partners LLP (SGP) is delighted to be working with The 55 Group, a leading group of companies comprising Pagabo, Sypro, Social Profit Calculator and Tequ, on its new office premises in Hull. SGP has designed a complete refurbishment of the Grade II ex-banking hall, creating a modern, agile workspace that delivers The 55 Group’s “team-first” approach.

The 1878 building on Whitefriargate in the centre of Hull contains a remarkable amount of original, in situ decorative details, from stunning ceilings and a glazed dome lantern to rich wood work, stonework and window details.

Explains Alan Soper, Studio Director at SGP: “We worked directly with The 55 Group to fit a flexible, vibrant office space within this remarkable heritage asset. Spread across a basement and five floors, the space had to provide workspace and breakout space for the group’s staff across its various brands, plus a members’ bar, private roof top terrace and three floors of offices that could be let out.”

Designing within a listed building meant SGP’s ideas had to work with the historic fabric of the building, not interfering with the in situ decorations, and where it was necessary to remove some elements, re-using them elsewhere in the building.

In the ground floor entrance, SGP’s design creates a welcoming waiting area with a glass balustrade that allows clear views into the higher level, open plan offices. A stunning decorative ceiling, picked out in white and dark blue, arcs over a mix of informal and formal workstations, complete with circular juice bar. A cantilevered mezzanine floor, which leaves the original decorative features and columns untouched, is flooded with light from the dome lantern and generous windows across the main office space. Opened out to the adjacent rooms, the whole area becomes a contemporary practical workspace combining formal and informal areas, with kitchenette, accessible from both the ground and first floors.

Jess Greenhalgh, Interior Designer at SGP: “We were designing the spaces during the pandemic and, in response to the new ways of thinking and working, The 55 Group decided to remove some 40% of the formal desk space and introduce more varied workstations, including informal breakout and meeting areas.”

Chief executive of The 55 Group Gerard Toplass said: “This building is a prime example of why you should never look down when you are in Hull. The architecture is tremendous, and we are really pleased to be turning this former bank into a thriving space in which individuals and businesses can thrive.

“While Whitefriargate is one of the city’s oldest streets and is a fundamental part of Hull’s heritage, we are looking forward to its next chapter at the heart of the city’s modern, future-ready offering. It is also set to provide companies with a space to train and upskills their staff via ‘learning’ days. We believe that it’s important for modern-day employers to be able to offer their workforce opportunities for self-growth and personal development on their own premises, and we believe that this new facility will do just that.

“It has been great working alongside SGP, local contractors and Hull City Council to bring our vision to life, and I would like to personally thank them for their ongoing support.”

SGP’s design embraces the Victorian boldness with colour, mixing pure white with deep, rich blues and fresh green highlights. The wider heritage context was reflected in the flooring of the main office, with a cobble effect carpet echoing the cobbled streets still found in Hull today. In the upper floors, moss effect concrete vinyl tiles bring a softer feel into the space.

The basement level, complete with old bank vaults, has become a welcoming relaxation space, with kitchen, games area and pool table and comfortable seating. SGP’s design incorporates a black ceiling and white walls to balance the low ceiling with a feeling of space. Surface lighting and cable trucking is exposed to create a semi-industrial and functional feel to the general spaces, contrasting with feature decorative finishes in the staff areas.

The decorative flourishes continue into the second floor, albeit in a slightly simpler format. The floor-to-ceiling windows have kept their original details and the rooms retain their ornamental elements such as timber fireplace surrounds, deep skirting and embellished architrave. In the office that will be used by Hotham’s Gin School, an unusual wooden panelled ceiling in a geometric pattern is the star of the space.

There is a rooftop bar, partly for Hotham’s events but also accessible for other staff in the building. Overlooking Hull’s grandiloquent Victorian skyline, the clean lines of the pergola timber bar area and simple outdoor seating contrast their surroundings and offer a relaxing venue for social gatherings.

Continues Jess: “The 55 Group was keen to encourage a vibrant, entrepreneurial energy into the centre of Hull, by offering flexible office space with shared supporting facilities for smaller companies looking for quality premises.”

The top two floors reflect the post-Covid demand for more agile working, offering bookable workspace with shared multi-use facilities such as kitchens and meeting rooms.

The ground floor includes SGP’s designs for a separate private members’ bar area, to be run by Hotham’s Gin School, one of the new tenants.

Explains Jess: “This area was particularly exciting, as it gives us the opportunity to extend our experience of designing hospitality areas within offices and other buildings. Known as “The Vault Bar”, this will be a discrete bar venue which will be used by Hotham’s and other occupiers within the building.”

SGP’s design works with the relatively low ceiling height to create a 1920’s speakeasy feel, with dark painted retained brick, chevron wood flooring and low level lighting. The beautiful timber from the old cashiers’ stations and clerks’ cubicles will be re-used as feature panelling on the walls, and also as partitions, with the bar back being built from old bookcases found elsewhere in the bank. Exposed metal work harks back to the reinforced steel of the vaults whilst the original metal grills will become back-lit wall features, draped in ivy to mix natural and man-made materials. Brass and copper metalwork add soft, warm reflections.

Concludes Alan: “The 55 Group was very hands-on as a client and wonderfully open to different ideas. We shared a respect for the heritage of the building and a desire to bring it back into practical, long-term use which achieves the group’s aspirations for a sustainable business ecosystem. I think the result is a design that offers practical work and play spaces that deliver what the client needs for themselves today and can respond to the changes in business life for years to come.”


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