5 min read
03 May 2023

SGP celebrates opening of revived Richmond Building reception for University of Bradford

By Alan Soper

Taking inspiration from the avant-garde Joseph Mayo mural that crowns the University of Bradford’s flagship Richmond Building, Stephen George + Partners (SGP) has re-designed its reception area – the main setting for key moments of university life, from a student’s first open day to their graduation ceremony.

Appointed by Sycamore Square Group as the Multidisciplinary Lead on the University’s Consultancy Framework, SGP’s interior design team were given the exciting opportunity to design and deliver an impressive new reception space within the Richmond Building, as part of a larger scale refurbishment of selected areas around the campus.

Embracing the energetic atmosphere of the University and its campus, as well as being a functional reception that is an inviting space for day-to-day activities, the transformed Richmond Reception was reopened in September 2022 in time to welcome the University of Bradford’s newest students.

The design process began with exploring, Bradford’s arts and literary greats, the rich culture and diversity, and more recently its new status as the UK City of Culture 2025.

Explains Alan Soper, Studio Director at SGP: “We worked very closely with the client, and the Project Managers, Sycamore Square Group, and in particular the Vice Chancellor, to create a design that expresses the University’s pride in its history, its city, its students, and its Educational strengths, whilst embracing the architecture of the Richmond Building. Influenced by the mural on the entrance façade; the colours and pattens which the artist intended to relate to the local textile industry; we re-designed the building’s reception into a showstopper space at the heart of the campus.”

The mural has become recognised as a significant example of modern art and it was designed and built by architect and artist Joseph Mayo in 1964, and has remained an important landmark in the community.

The design process involved numerous design reviews with the client and university stakeholders, including presentations of feasibility and capability concepts to promote comment. This in turn prompted changes and influenced many of the design decisions and various adaptations to the proposed ‘look and feel’. The outcome was a scheme that encapsulated the space, pulling together the colours and shapes seen in Mayo’s mural, and inspired by the sculptural characteristics of the building and its structure. The chosen palette combined neutral tones with an emphasis on textures and pattern, highlighted by a terracotta-freckled terrazzo floor tile which carries the influence of the mosaic into the space, and complements the natural colour scheme throughout.

The original open, entrance lobby space lacked a defined purpose and sense of arrival, and being separated by glazed screens and steps, it segregated access and disrupted the visual and user circulation flow through to the reception area. Now, a gentle sloped ascent, paired with the insertion of a feature wall that focuses the line of sight towards the main reception, creates an accessible, transient flow through the new entrance space. The doors that once separated the atrium lobby and the reception area have been replaced with a full height Crittall type glazed door system, angled to align with the geometry of the outer walls of the Richmond Building, whilst creating a practical draft lobby within the entrance. The new circulation area also offers options for display and exhibitions, with cut-outs in the feature wall revealing the expansive external windows, which frame views out across the landscaped external courtyards and the University Campus.

The original concrete soffit of the upper floor slabs has been exposed, and the addition of a black timber-stained bulkhead ceiling and suspended linear light strips defines a clear route to the expansive main reception area beyond, whilst creating a characterful and contemporary aesthetic for the initial entrance space. Previously hidden from view in the far back corner, the reception desk has been completely redesigned and its new 360° format sits prominently in the centre of the space visible from all sides and allowing visitors to move easily around it. The angled design of the frontages mirrors the shape of the building’s façade and is decorated in a striking herringbone pattern of ceramic tiles in vibrant colours inspired by the mural. The original inscription, commemorating the opening of the building in 1965 by the Prime Minister and the University’s first Chancellor, Harold Wilson, has been re-mounted onto a new marble wall, making the lettering a feature of significance within the reception once again.

Continues Alan: “The University was a knowledgeable client, with a clear idea of what they wanted but also very open to new ideas and suggestions. The project was so important to them; there was someone from the University on site every day. We were able to build a strong relationship of trust, especially important as we needed to adapt the design to meet unexpected technical issues whilst keeping it faithful to original vision.”

The start of the construction process involved stripping back the building to its original fabric, which brought unanticipated challenges to the scheme and site works. The structural columns were exposed to their original concrete form, revealing damaged surfaces, pipework, and sizing and locations that did not match what was indicated on the original plans. The latter had the greatest impact on site progress, prompting a time-critical re-design of the reception desk, the predominant feature of the space, in order to fit in and around actual dimensions and true positions, while the columns were boxed out and clad, ready for their new concrete render.

The Richmond Reception has been re-imagined and has brought life back to the building, welcoming the continuous flow of people who pass through the University’s main entrance, day in, day out. Its user-friendly, transient design promotes interconnectivity for students, staff, and visitors alike. The visually striking, statement desk at the centre allows for an interactive experience which has become the true ‘heart’ of the Richmond Building.

The new reception and entrance space has been very well received by the Vice Chancellor and all the University users, which hopefully stands as a benchmark for other refurbishments across the University of Bradford campus.


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