Claesson Koivisto Rune Arkitektkontor crystallized plans for the Stockholm office of Sony Music Sweden
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
From Abba in the 1970s to Roxette a decade later, sweetly sexy pop supergroups have propelled Sweden's music industry into the enviable third position globally, behind only the U.S. and U.K. in export sales. Considering the worldwide appeal of Swedish pop, it's no surprise that major recording labels maintain Stockholm operations. One of the largest is Sony Music Sweden.
Sony's success notwithstanding, the company used to operate from tatty facilities isolated in an industrial suburb, far from the rhythms of central Stockholm. Embarrassed executives often found themselves meeting with artists at hotels downtown. "Apart from the framed gold records piled here and there, the previous space could have belonged to any type of business," Claesson Koivisto Rune Arkitektkontor principal Mårten Claesson remembers. "It's safe to say that the old office is not mourned by anyone."
Claesson and fellow principals Ola Rune and Eero Koivisto—a trio with rock-star status in Swedish architecture circles—were commissioned to design new Sony headquarters in a converted church. Located in the city's Kungholmen district, on a desirable street lined with boutiques and cafés, the stucco-and-masonry building was constructed more than 80 years ago in the neoclassical style known as Swedish Grace. More recently, the interior had housed an advertising agency.
Gutting the five existing levels, plus a mezzanine and basement, allowed the firm to construct a 16,000-square-foot headquarters that, Claesson says, "international artists would feel proud to visit." In a country where many people favor the cozy familiarity of fuzzy-modern "craft," aimed straight at brightening the endless winter months, Sony exhibits the sparkling precision of a slickly produced pop single. As Claesson says, "By peeling off the unnecessary, you gain content." (Not coincidentally, one of Claesson Koivisto Rune's many slogans is "Empty is not boring.") Nuances make all the difference. For example, the architects painted the Sony building's shell light gray to highlight the pure white wallboard volumes inserted in the space.
What was once the church sanctuary is now the Sony public- relations department's lofty home, a narrow triple-height atrium with something of the feel of a Mediterranean courtyard. No particular hierarchy dictates the placement of other departments: A&R, accounting, and sales. All are on upper levels overlooking the atrium. Executives occupy the top floor so that Sony's managing director can greet his staff each morning on the way upstairs.
Ascending from the new white lobby, the complicated stairway threads its way around and through the atrium to link all five levels. Slotted and layered peekaboo walls punched with blazing-yellow square windows, an idea adapted from Mexican architect Luis Barragán, ensure that the view changes constantly for those moving up or down—a setup that initially confused the construction team. When it became clear that "two-dimensional drawings would be hard for the builders to comprehend," Claesson says, the firm supplied a cardboard model for on-site reference.
Only two offices are private, and both of those have glass walls. The remaining 58 workstations are defined mainly by freestanding cupboards and desks, making acoustics a major consideration. "Naturally, everybody has their own stereos," Claesson notes. Headphones solve part of the problem, while gray wall- to-wall carpet muffles ambient noise. The 2-foot-deep storage walls ringing the atrium supply some additional acoustic isolation.
Besides workstations by Piero Lissoni, most of the accent furnishings are bankable new production pieces that Claesson Koivisto Rune designed for various Swedish manufacturers. All three principals collaborated on the Dropp chairs in mini-lounges on staircase landings. The chairs' upholstery is a Barragán-inspired magenta, a fact that the architects slipped past potentially conservative-minded Swedes on Sony's staff by noting only an alphanumeric color code on the drawings.
The same magenta appears in the lobby, on pads for Claesson Koivisto Rune's sturdy wooden Bowie lounge chairs. Manufactured by David Design, they neatly address contemporary Sweden's aesthetic dilemma. "We mustn't be so damned Swedish, but see to it that our rational heritage is mixed with international influences," David Design creative director David Carlson says. "Function and solidity we're already good at. Now we need sex appeal."