Urban Sensibility

May 14, 2002
The New World of Work At Muzak
Next time you’re lounging in Crate and Barrel’s leather or dining over crab at Red Lobster, take a listen to the catchy tunes heard overhead. It’s Muzak – the unique musical experience that’s nearly everywhere you are. Did you think instrumental music was for old fogies and elevators? Think again. With a hip new headquarters that combines industrial and urban sensibility, the company’s move from Seattle to South Carolina has changed more than just locale – it’s changing attitudes.

Moving from the nation’s coffee capital to the Palmetto State would prove to be no small undertaking. However, relocating more than 200 families nearly 3,000 miles from the Northwest to Southeast United States was a smart move for a company headed in the right direction. Growing tremendously (the company has doubled its value in the last four years), Muzak’s new headquarters had to reflect both the corporate culture and a new brand identity.
With the expiration date on a lease rapidly approaching, Muzak sat down to map out some goals for the company’s next home. “Looking at our new offices had everything to do with the way our offices in Seattle were, which was something right out of a 1970s insurance company – the bigger your title, the bigger your office,” says Kenny Kahn, Muzak’s vice president of sales and marketing, Fort Mill, SC. “We were already on our way to building the type of corporate culture that was starting to define who we were, which had nothing to do with title and size of office.”
The hierarchical arrangement of Seattle offices became nothing more than a distant memory when Muzak employees and executives populated the new Fort Mill, SC headquarters, a warehouse-like building with equally sized offices for everyone. “There is no hierarchy between the type of workstation or office – from the intern to Bill Boyd, the CEO, it’s the same workstation, same size,” explains Jim Thompson, director of design, Little & Associates Architects, Charlotte, NC.
The practicality of the space enables immense flexibility. Because of the uniformity in workstation size, reconfiguration due to employee churn is simplified. Additionally, using a tilt-up concrete warehouse had its advantages. “The things we did inside would have to easily be put back to become a warehouse if in the future [Muzak’s] lease expired and they moved out,” explains Ruth R. Cline, director of corporate interiors, Little & Associates Architects.
Laying out the wide- open, 100,000-square- foot warehouse-turned-office-building with workstations and common areas takes organization. “We were looking at how to organize 350 people in a relatively large space – and how to do this so it wasn’t just a sea of cubicles,” says Michael Coates, senior designer, Little & Associates Architects. Using urban planning for inspiration, pathways were transformed into avenues, and workstations into neighborhoods. The team even went so far as to create a city center, which serves as the nucleus of the building.
The “city in a box” concept was an ingenious way to map out the open-plan space – and an idea, which by its very nature encourages interaction and socialization. Much like an Italian piazza, the city center is the hub of the building from which visitors and employees can access a theatre, café, post office, and audio architects studio – each housed within individual interior buildings.
More than 20 enclosed conference rooms, diverse in size, are strategically placed at the intersection of avenues. In keeping with the urban design theme, each reflects a different type of surface material. “Although they are all numbered, people say ‘I’ll meet you in the red brick room,’ or ‘I’ll meet you in plastics one.’ They tend not to be referred to by their number, but by the material themselves,” explains Kahn.
Skylights, carpet, sound masking, and insulation covered in pegboard add to the comfort of the space – providing employees with ample natural lighting as well as acoustic privacy. Although subtle, the use of circular shapes throughout the space was hardly unintentional. Muzak’s new logo, the letter “m” inside a circle, provided the inspiration for much of the building’s interior design, and transforms the space into a physical manifestation of the company’s brand identity.
On a mission to dispel the stereotype that Muzak is the producer of “elevator music,” the new Fort Mill headquarters leaves nothing to question: The company and its unique products are just as edgy and hip as the building it now calls home.
Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings and BI magazines.

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