London music studio workspaces are designed to promote conscious isolation

British company Alma-nac has minimized natural lighting, a typical advantage of office design, to create the ideal space for musicians’ specialized and focused production work.

The entrance to the Axis, a music production center in London. Courtesy of Jack Hobhouse

Access to natural light is generally considered a criterion of good workplace design. But for the interiors of The Axis on Ormside, a new music production facility in London’s South Bermondsey, the designer and client sought the opposite effect: no trace of light or exterior sound. “When people check in,” says Chris Bryant, director of British architecture firm alma-nac, “they don’t want to know it’s four in the morning.” Creating an intense sense of isolation is one of the strategies Bryant’s team has used to guide their construction of the perfect environment for deep, focused work, where musicians can connect, light up, and let go. distractions from the world.

Recently completed inside a former light industrial building, Axis required little structural intervention. Adapting the existing shell helped the design team achieve an acoustically sound layout in a timely manner, even in the midst of a pandemic. (The timeline from project launch to completion in November 2020 was a cool 12 months.)

Alma Nac L'Axe 018
The hallway outside Axis’ soundproof music studios features custom CNC-milled plywood wallcovering inspired by artist Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Physichromy series. Courtesy of Jack Hobhouse

Within the existing structure, the architects inserted ten studio apartments as self-contained, windowless boxes arranged along a central corridor that runs the full length of the building (front to back); and unlike the individual work areas flanking it, this hallway is open to the full two-story height of the space. The “street,” as the designers describe the long passageway, is illuminated by daylight filtering through polycarbonate skylights on one side of the sloping roof. For an extra dose of sunlight on the building’s only wall with windows, its facade, the architects built a mezzanine room with seating and a kitchen accessible by stairs near the entrance. These two public spaces offer a break with the closed enclosure of the studios.

Alma Nac L'Axe 040
A studio. Courtesy of Jack Hobhouse

But it’s the pod-like layout that makes this workplace highly functional, not only blocking out distractions at street level, but also helping to provide acoustic privacy between tenants. Producers can opt for short-term or long-term residencies, and the fact that “each piece is basically a little box inside a slightly larger box, does a lot of work,” says Bryant, whose team worked closely with sound. Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design consultants to ensure high quality sound control in every room. The designers implemented special insulation for airborne noise and rubber mats to absorb reverberations. HVAC systems, which studios control individually, also have attenuators to prevent acoustic interference.

Alma Nac L'Axe 043
Stairs leading to the living areas and the kitchen of the “green room”. Courtesy of Jack Hobhouse

But for all the attention to acoustic performance, the styling wasn’t an afterthought. The hallway walls are covered in a dynamic graphic installation inspired by kinetic artist Carlos Cruz-Diez Physichromy series. The custom wallcovering is made of CNC-milled plywood that forms mosaic patterns, which appear to move as visitors walk through the passageway. Elements like this also help mark the space with the same sense of purpose that has contributed to the success of other types of coworking spaces.

Alma Nac The Axis 002 V2
The mezzanine “green room” space was built along the front wall of the building to allow access to its windows during studio breaks. Courtesy of Jack Hobhouse

Alma-nac and the client were on the same page when it came to Axis on Ormside’s zero-waste building approach. “We tried to work as much with sizes of sheets as you buy off the shelf,” says Bryant, who adds that the scraps were used in the wall noggins. The decision to lean on an aesthetic inspired in part by Enzo Mari’s DIY manifesto Autoprogettazione also provided assistance. Although the designers planned to use leftover wood to produce Mari-style furniture for the green room, in the end, there wasn’t enough extra material to make it happen. Instead, the designers opted for upcycling. “In a way, it was a success of the project,” says Bryant.