The Beat Goes On

 03 Aug 2014

The music business used to be known as an industry with edge, attitude and a taste for excess. The only trouble is however – at least in this the age of downloadable music and diminishing returns – that it’s now a business that’s still driven by creativity and that retains enormously high expectations, yet everything now has to be realised on a tighter budget than in the days of the stretch limousines.

When one of the music industry’s big names decides it’s time for a new office, you can be assured the outcome is not going to be run-of-the-mill.

EMI, one of the most respected labels in the music business, is no different – complicated by the fact that the company looked like it was about to undergo a complex ownership change just as they decided they desperately needed to move.

Not, you would imagine, the ideal conditions for creating a brand new working environment. Then again, as designer Andrew Cliffe of The World is Round explains, “They wanted to get in before that [the change of ownership] was formally announced because if it had been announced before they had moved, they would never have moved”. This also meant that Cliffe came on board early enough in the piece to help choose the ideal site.

EMI and Cliffe settled on one on Flinders Street in the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills – one previously occupied by furniture showrooms designed in 1990 by Burley Katon Halliday (BKH).

The fundamental brief, Cliffe explains, was for a space that “showcased EMI’s position in the market as being very open, transparent, friendly and inviting”. All on a budget that was “ruthlessly scrutinised” by an overseas head office. “EMI’s objective was to create a place of work that celebrated inspiration and imagination,” says Cliffe. Simply put: they understand that creativity breeds creates creativity.

In more practical terms EMI’s requirements were to have ten separate offices for each of the record company’s department heads, as well as open eating and entertaining areas, a traditional boardroom and meeting rooms.

“The idea was to keep it as honest and as raw and as clean as possible,” says Cliffe. So the first thing done was to strip it back to the bare bones of the original BKH design.

As it turned out, BKH design had specified Zip HydroTap systems in the original design.

“The planning principles were maximising the amount of natural light, making sure the offices were pushed to the core and that people sitting at workstations had access to as much natural light as possible,” Cliffe adds. Knoll workstations were specified, without screens dividing them. All finishes, products and engineering “were continuously tested to ensure their alignment with EMI’s goals of green design,” says Cliffe.

Take for instance the provision of instant boiling and chilled water. As it turned out, BKH design had specified Zip HydroTap systems in the original design. “They were 22 years old and they were so happy with the way that they worked and were maintained and looked after that they went out and bought [them] again,” says Cliffe.

Indeed it was a decision in perfect accord with a commitment to an approach that took into account everything from minimal lighting and power use to “recycling, photocopy tracking, floor kill switches to turn off standby power and top of the line air con unit,” says Cliffe, “all to ensure EMI’s continuous dedication to social responsibility.” Success without the excess.

"Article taken from Boiling Point issue no. 18, published by the Indesign Media Asia Pacific. Words by Guy Allenby, Photography by Tyrone Branigan, Interior Designer by The World is Round"