Sony Noble associates approached us to look at submitting proposals for a shop in Great Marlborough Street, in competition with two other practices. They came to us with an unusual desire for a shop that wasn’t really a shop. We were approached as a result of some work they had seen in an article in FX magazine. This was a test both of our skills as architects and as designers in helping Sony create a superb and unique space in which it could market its products. Sony is of course divided into many subdivisions. We met the facilities managers of Sony Music Entertainment (UK) to look at ideas for the Sony shop.
The unusual planning scenario largely predicated the project. We were told that there had been a difficult history between Sony and the planning authorities with respect to this HQ building. Due to time constraints and mobility issues Sony wanted the application to go through with the minimum of difficulty. This particular part of the site was designated part retail (A1) and part food and drink (A3). The client would have liked to have advertising only on this site, but that might have led to a strenuous planning debate, so they asked us to look at ideas for a shop that was more of a billboard than a place to buy products. In other words Sony required that they gained a presence on Great Marlborough street. After much negotiation with the planning authority we agreed not to alter the facade at all. All the work was to be carried out behind it. We submitted three applications; one for change of use to entirely retail on the ground floor, one for consent for the removal of the existing shop front (as it is in a conservation area), and we also applied for advertising consent (only because we proposed one illuminated external sign). After further discussion and minor amendments, planning was eventually granted.
We proposed a blue screen TV-space akin to the world of TV studios that could be rich in content and media. The main space was to be made up of a parabolic curve (in section) that was covered in blue rubber tiles. At the window side of this curve would be a series of plasma displays. At the rear of the curve would be another set of screens, this time CRT. In the centre of the blue screen space would be a custom made relaxation “bloid”: a large multi-faceted piece of luxurious furniture. To one side of this space was to be the small retail concession. Here we proposed treating it as a gallery: a white space punctuated with graphics and products (mini-disc). The pitch was done using entirely 3D renders. It was great to see our architectural vision come to life as the final project looked very similar to the renders we produced.
The key challenge with this project was the short construction period on site. Also there was a large hole in the slab that was originally intended for a staircase. After tenders were issued five contractors expressed an interest, one was selected and construction commenced. The original budget for the project was £400,000. After we submitted the proposals (at detailed design level) it transpired that the New York office had stipulated a budget of £250,000. This meant we had to go through the entirety of the project and reduce the value by around a third. This presented a difficult challenge. In the end the shapes were not compromised but savings were made by adopting different construction techniques as well as reducing the specifications of much of the technology.