Pump Up the Volumes pix
George Yu Architects rolls out a series of cubes for the Sony Design Center in Los Angeles
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
From Vaio laptops to Play-Stations to Wega HDTVs, every must-have consumer product that's manufactured by Japanese electronics giant Sony begins life as a set of drawings in one of the company's four design centers. This quartet straddles the globe with locations in Tokyo, Shanghai, London, and Los Angeles—the latter, a recent replacement and consolidation for U.S. facilities in San Francisco and Park Ridge, New Jersey.
The Los Angeles center, home to a workforce of 40 industrial, graphic, and interface designers, occupies the 18,000-square-foot fifth floor of a Santa Monica office-park building—not the 'most auspicious site for the image-conscious brand. Assigned to turn the less-than-chic premises into a high- security yet stimulating workplace, George Yu Architects infused the nondescript environment with an appropriately edgy vibe.
"Sony asked us to provide a new way of working," recalls principal George Yu, who put the restricted-access design studio in one wing of the L-shape plan and the public areas in the other. "Our brief was to create a range of possible work situations, a spectrum with individuals at one end and groups at the other." To achieve cross-fertilization of ideas among different design teams, Sony sought an environment that not only encouraged chance encounters among staff but also generated a general awareness of all projects under development. Yu's vision gave these ideas concrete form.
In a touchstone strategy, the architect outfit the design studio with a series of four room-size cedar crates that he calls "project boxes." Inspired by wood sake containers, the open-top near-cubes—measuring 10 feet square by 9 feet high—serve as informal meeting and communication venues.
The four volumes transform the workplace. When their 5-foot-wide pivoting doors are closed, the boxes' exteriors are blank cubes. When the doors are swung open, their stark interiors, lined in magnetic whiteboard, become extensions of the surrounding studio space. The boxes also orient four adjacent bays fitted with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's Joyn plastic-laminate workstations.
Although the Joyn system is inherently flexible, Yu devised an arrangement of aluminum-framed sliding panels that adds further adaptability to the work areas. With whiteboard on one side and pinup fabric on the other, these movable partitions can divide the large bays into smaller, semiprivate units. However, true aural privacy exists only at the top. The vice president has a soundproof office (also a box), although its transparent glass walls provide visual access.
Two cedar volumes appoint the public wing, one housing the main conference room, the other a server room. On the east and west exterior walls of the conference-room box, Yu carved horizontal niches to 'accommodate kitchen and mail services, respectively. Two glass-fronted meeting areas are situated behind the conference room. Across the hall, the main corridor, is laptop lane, where visiting staff can work from Alberto Meda chairs.
Between the public and private wings is the reception box, which Yu made completely different from the others. Sleek, cool, and all white, its appearance is what one would expect in an office that develops electronic products.
The walls, ceiling, and structural columns are covered with custom-cast, 32-inch-square plaster panels. They sport a pattern of circles, some of which incorporate frameless cans to accommodate incandescent lighting in the ceiling. After the panels were mounted and the seams between them filled with spackle, the whole expanse was sprayed with white paint. "Panels like these are generally used for cladding one surface only, and never for the ceiling," Yu explains. "Here, they wrap around the entire volume." The architect accented the custom 10-foot-long plaster desk with a 3-inch-thick slab of backlit cast resin and specified glossy poured epoxy for the floor.
For the remainder of the office, with the exception of carpeted meeting rooms, floors are poured concrete. Ceilings are exposed. It's essentially the loft aesthetic, its rawness the universal signifier—and conduit—of creativity. The next generation of Sony camcorders, LCD TVs, and MP3 players are sure to bear its influence.