fbpx
We rely on advertising revenue to support the creative content on our site. Please consider whitelisting our site in your settings, or pausing your adblocker while stopping by.
Azure Magazine November December 2022 Cover: The Residential Interiors Issue

Get the Magazine

London’s music scene has changed its tune in the past decade, with the action shifting east to King’s Cross. This left Sony Music UK in a tricky spot; while the company otherwise loved the Kensington office that MoreySmith had designed for it back in 2008 (and then later refreshed in 2018), it eventually realized that it needed to start planning for a relocation. “If they could have picked up their original office and moved it, that would have been their ideal solution,” says Linda Morey-Burrows, the principal director at MoreySmith. But as the pandemic ushered in new working models, her firm’s design for Sony Music UK’s new King’s Cross headquarters evolved into an even bigger rethink.

The communal cafeteria area at the new Sony Music UK headquarters in King's Cross designed by MoreySmith.
Photo by Billy Bolton.

Like all the best sophomore albums, the end result (which opened this year in a new building at 2 Canal Reach) experiments with fresh ideas while building upon the core appeal of its predecessor. Anyone familiar with Sony Music UK’s old digs will no doubt recognize the new office’s cafeteria, which is a reimagining of a similar space that sat at the heart of the company’s former location. “When you move homes, you don’t want to totally start again,” says Morey-Burrows. “You need a few things that you loved in the old home to be in the new one. Otherwise it looks like you’ve lost your personality along the way.”

A social seating area at the new Sony Music UK headquarters in King's Cross designed by MoreySmith.
Photo by Billy Bolton.
Photo by Fiona Smallshaw.

Bigger changes play out in the office’s workspace configuration, which was informed by staff interviews but also on-the-ground observations. “We hired a team to go to their existing office in Kensington and watch people for 10 days, just to get insights into what they were actually doing,” explains Shonagh Gardiner, a senior associate at MoreySmith. “Sometimes people say that they’re always at a desk, but then you see that’s not really the case — they’re working on creative things that happen more collaboratively. Having that data allowed us to back up some new proposals. And then COVID happened, and everyone lost their desks anyway.”

Photo by Billy Bolton.

In the end, working arrangements were decided on a per-label basis, with some of Sony’s brands — which include RCA, Ministry of Sound and Columbia — maintaining a one-to-one ratio of employees to desks, and others eager to embrace more lounge-like environments with sofas and laptop tables. 

The reception area for Columbia Records with a grooved concrete wall at the new Sony Music UK headquarters in King's Cross designed by MoreySmith.
Photo by Billy Bolton.

This reflects MoreySmith’s overall approach to working with the many divisions and departments that fall under the Sony Music umbrella. “It was essentially one project with 25 clients,” says Gardiner. “And we really wanted to make sure that all of the teams felt represented in the new building.”

The design firm decided to divide and conquer, assigning different employees to different labels to ensure visual directions that reflected their distinct identities. As a result, Columbia’s zone is clad in grooved concrete, while RCA’s is defined by an orange corrugated metal. “It’s almost like a department store, where you’re instantly aware that you’re in a different brand’s area because of a different visual experience,” Gardiner says.

Photo by Billy Bolton.
Photo by Fiona Smallshaw.

The challenge then became ensuring that these various zones still felt like part of a cohesive whole. Indeed, while the branding of each space is distinct, the overall design remains flexible enough to support future adjustments if labels end up expanding or contracting. “Architecturally, they’re all constructed pretty similarly. How they’re wrapped, dressed and lit, that’s where the differences are — in the cladding or graphics,” says Morey-Burrows.

A red staircase spanning multiple floors in an open atrium at the new Sony Music UK headquarters in King's Cross designed by MoreySmith.
Photo by Fiona Smallshaw.
Photo by Hufton+Crow.

MoreySmith invested similar energy in developing ways to bring employees together throughout the workday. Sony Music UK’s old headquarters (which, funnily enough, was located in a former department store building) was spread across only two floors, ensuring frequent chance encounters. This new location, spanning six floors, required a more intentional circulation strategy to promote interconnectivity.

As a result, two prominent staircases — one black, one red — were inserted into the building in bright, open spaces that create visual links to areas that employees might not otherwise pass through. A communal rooftop and live performance venue are other popular social hotspots, both for employees and for visitors.

Photo by Billy Bolton.

Of course, Sony Music UK’s various labels also have another important element in common: incredible acoustics. “Obviously, music is key,” says Morey-Burrows. Yet achieving the desired sound quality required some savvy design interventions. “The way the building was constructed, there wasn’t any acoustic lining in the external wall. So we were worried that we were going to be spilling out loud music into King’s Cross, where all of the buildings are quite close together,” Morey-Burrows explains.

To really ensure that the spaces do Sony Music’s albums justice, MoreySmith partnered with acoustics consultant Sandy Brown and the A/V team at MiX. The team added a secondary glazing to create a comfortable sonic buffer between the building and its neighbours, and then wrapped many of the studios in their own dedicated acoustic enclosure. Soundproof pods introduce another destination for individual listening.

A café area at the new Sony Music UK headquarters in King's Cross designed by MoreySmith.
Photo by Billy Bolton.
Photo by Fiona Smallshaw.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the final component of MoreySmith’s design is a quiet library area. “The café is a good space to work if you want to get away from your own department, but they love having music playing quite loud there,” Morey-Burrows explains. “And some people in our interviews said, while they love that space, they just can’t work in it. So we wanted to give them a calm spot that’s kind of a different vibe from the rest of the building.” Like a sensitive ballad in an album full of bangers, the library reiterates the art of a well-crafted mix.

Sony Music UK’s New London Office Shows Off Rich Sonic Range

MoreySmith designed the music company’s headquarters like a department store, giving each Sony label its own distinct visual identity.

We rely on advertising revenue to support the creative content on our site. Please consider whitelisting our site in your settings, or pausing your adblocker while stopping by.