We have to confess that, initially (and, as it fairly quickly turns out, prematurely), we couldn’t quite understand why PRS for Music had chosen the location it has for its new headquarters.
It was only when we ignored both our instinct to take ‘short cuts’ and a well known search engine’s ‘smart’ maps that we realised just how short and simple a jaunt our destination is from King’s Cross and St Pancras. Not quite what you’d call man and machine in perfect harmony!
So having rejected technology in favour of simply asking for directions, we soon found our destination – 2 Pancras Square – and simultaneously totally began to understand why our hosts had chosen this impressive new location.
Copyright in music is how PRS’ 100,000 members – songwriters, composers and music publishers – earn their living. Its members license their rights through PRS for Music rather than doing it individually – making it easier and more efficient for those who want to use music to do so legally by obtaining a licence from the organisation.
PRS for Music is owned by and accountable to its members. After deducting the costs of running the organisation, all the income it receives from licence fees is distributed back to its members.
PRS for Music is the UK’s leading collecting society and part of a global network of societies. In most cases a licence from PRS for Music gives those who want to use music the right to legally use millions of copyrighted songs and music compositions registered around the world.
The Performing Right Society (PRS) formed way back in 1914 to administer the non-dramatic performing and broadcasting rights of musical works across the UK, Eire and British Empire. Operatic composer and soprana Liza Lehman was the first official member of PRS, and, in 1923, the PRS issued its first licence to the BBC.
In 1960 the society moved to new headquarters in Berners Street, and over the next decade welcomed legendary members including Ray Davies, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, David Bowie, Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Eric Clapton, the Bee Gees and Elton John.
Today, the society is meeting the challenges of music in the digital age by ensuring that music rights can be licensed across borders, in an accurate, transparent and efficient manner.
HLW has, in fact, recently moved PRS to two new locations, one in this fantastic new HQ building here in the Kings Cross development and one in a major refurbishment of a currently leased building in Streatham. ‘If anything, Streatham is probably the bigger project in terms of transformation – not in terms of size – Streatham is 30,000 sq ft and this is 45,000 sq ft – this is fairly traditional Cat B here and we did Cat A, Cat B and external work for Streatham,’ HLW Senior Designer Abby Le Marchand tells us.
HLW was tasked with helping PRS for Music to better reflect the industry they represent, whilst providing best value for their members and adapting to technological innovation.
The Streatham project included an MEP system based on an exposed services solution to maximise ceiling heights and natural light. Occupation challenges for the refurbishment centered on swing space to accommodate decant from Streatham for the duration of the programme.
HLW also helped implement a full home working strategy to ease pressure on the swing space, with the move and occupation programme requiring the two separate buildings keep to the same timescales.
‘Some people also relocated to Berners Street,’ Abby continues, ‘which is where their main building was beforehand. Streatham was outdated when we were appointed. It was a typical 1970’s building – it was tired, really dark, with low ceilings. There was no design strategy whatsoever – it was a mismatch of furniture and spaces – and there was no soul. I think some of that was to do with the area – which is now up and coming – and the transformation of the workplace was a massive part of encouraging their people to want to work there.’
HLW was tasked with helping PRS for Music to better reflect the industry they represent, whilst providing best value for their members and adapting to technological innovation. HLW undertook a full discovery process, including engagement, building appraisal and test fitting to develop an innovative workplace strategy to support flexible and multi-location working, allowing for future business change.
Delivering two very different projects concurrently required innovation across every facet of the project; a key challenge was to ensure that the projects – although wildly different in terms of existing building typology – delivered a complimentary finished product in respect of quality, atmosphere, culture, facilities and look and feel, and a key requirement for the project was to ensure all staff, whether based in Streatham or Central London, are treated equally and provided with a place to work from that is of the highest quality regardless of location. As a consequence, and as Abigail has already explained, PRS invested in a significant upgrade of the Streatham building to ensure an equitable balance. The design there is based around connectivity, with each office having a café, which acts as a focus to bring the staff together across the buildings.
Moving back to King’s Cross, Abby tells us a little about the choice of location. ‘We looked at a couple of locations across London, and King’s Cross was seen as an up and coming location and a great reflection of the business PRS and their partners are in – but really it was about the building fit and the floorplates. It didn’t take a lot of persuasion for them to leave the West End. They’d had a long leasehold on the building in Berners Street, but it just wasn’t an effective or efficient space anymore. It was definitely time to move on.’
This multi-location project has been challenging. We shouldn’t underestimate just how much thought has gone into the overall process of delivering such similar environments – despite the massive differences in location and building type.
We turn our attentions back to the King’s Cross space which, we’re delighted (although not in the least bit surprised) to say is beautifully detailed, incredibly well considered and has not in the least bit succumbed to any obvious music gimmicks. We get the feeling that a lot of design firms might have tried to turn much of the space into something resembling a Hard Rock Café!
Instead, the scheme is fresh, modern and, where it needs to be, businesslike and functional – but that’s not to say that there are some subtle, cool nods to the coolest of industries. There are a number of really nice touches throughout reception and through to the KX café space – which even features a small stage for live performances and an amazing terrace space that looks back across the City. ‘We did have a lot of user groups throughout the change management process and one of the key messages was that they wanted to feel more part of the music industry – they wanted to be better connected to what it is they do,’ Abby reveals. ‘A lot of the people here do have a real interest in music – they love to play, they have bands, they have a choir and they love to get together for rehearsals. So we have put in a stage in each location. It’s also really good for speakers and town hall and business events. We even have a music and recording studio just beyond the KX bar!’
This multi-location project has been challenging. We shouldn’t underestimate just how much thought has gone into the overall process of delivering such similar environments
Incidentally, the aforementioned multi-functional space and terrace means that, despite PRS occupying the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th floors, reception is situated up on the 8th floor.
As Abby tells us, HLW assisted with the change management process throughout the programme, which included early engagement with staff through visioning sessions – working with both a selected employee working group and a management team, from a range of departments within the organisation. These employees then acted as ‘champions’ right up until the move – indeed HLW shared design decisions and progress with them so that they could inform their colleagues and answer any questions that might arise.
‘This was a massive step for them,’ Abigail admits. ‘A lot of people who work here have never been through anything like this. It was a great opportunity to completely overhaul everything – to invest in a completely new IT system, for example. A lot of the meeting rooms here are cable free and everyone has a laptop – which is a big change for them. Everyone’s mobile – and although, at the moment, they have a mostly 1:1 desking ratio, you can see from the floors here that they have the capability to be able to change that in the future. They now have collaborative areas and breakout zones – they had nothing like this in the past. They did have meeting rooms – but these were inefficient and used by the wrong groups. The meeting rooms were also ‘owned’ by each of the departments, and we have now centralized these. Absolutely everything here is shared – including the collaboration areas. Again, we ensured adjacent departments were instrumental in deciding which kit they had for these areas – they had a choice from us – and they really embraced that.’
‘PRS for Music is not an organisation that moves very often, in fact the last time was over 50 years ago,’ HLW Design Director Adam Strudwick reveals. ‘Our team worked extremely hard to enable PRS to take the journey from an outdated and under utilised property portfolio to a consolidated, connected and effective pair of buildings. The challenges have been great, with much of the client team new to delivering real estate projects and an existing building in Streatham, which at first glance was restrictive to delivering a first class refurbishment to support a new way of operating.
‘With the help of HLW and the wider project team, PRS for Music have seized the opportunity to create a working environment where their staff, songwriters, composers and publisher members can meet and work in a creative and dynamic way.’
To confirm Adam’s point, here’s what a couple of PRS for Music staff members have to say of their new working home: ‘I have worked for PRS for Music for over 20 years and I think this move is one of the biggest steps forward the company has taken in that time,’ and ‘I wish we could have done this years ago! The new office is absolutely 1st class, and the move has been executed brilliantly. Well done to all involved.’
Just before we make our leave, Abby gives us a quick peek at the brilliant music studio, where even the lights are hanging microphones! Rock’n’roll? This space certainly has plenty of soul