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Innovating Interiors

Pandora Media’s new Manhattan office celebrates the individual and the collective.

09/02/2014 By Margie Monin Dombrowski

Technology and the digital age are changing the way we work. As we see more of the online world merging with the real, what’s currently trending in the workplaces of Internet-centric companies are interior environments that bring form to this cultural shift. For the fast-growing music streaming company, Pandora Media, staying ahead of the curve—and keeping its staff of mostly Millennials engaged and inspired—means pushing past the boundaries of traditional workplace design.

When this rising Internet radio company was looking for a new office space because its former building was no longer conducive to its growth, architect ABA Studio and construction manager B.R. Fries & Associates (both of New York City) stepped in to help plan a new office for Pandora’s East Coast headquarters to not only increase productivity and efficiency, but also to represent their youthful brand image.

Opened in February 2014, Pandora’s new digitally-inspired digs take up two floors and 55,000 square feet in a historic midtown Manhattan building with an open plan. Designed to reflect Pandora’s unique culture as well as the spatial experience of the Internet, the space equally encourages social interaction and boosts productivity.

“Pandora has a strong commitment to an open office environment,” says Joanne Graney, an architect for ABA Studio. “Everyone has the same desk, from the person who just started working there to the company president.”

With 300 seats overall, roughly 150 per floor, acoustical privacy was a must for productivity. Several small “photo booths” or “crystals” and meeting rooms were created for making phone calls, holding meetings, or working alone, which also define work areas for collaboration and private, focused work. For this company that values both the individual and the collective, having options for employees is the idea.

The irregular-shaped glass phone booths with dot-matrix graphics offer a sense of seclusion, while simultaneously keeping the space open and transparent. Brightly colored acoustic fabric covered panels on the walls and ceiling, as well as carpeting, combine to balance the acoustically reflective glass.

“The glass crystals are all obtuse or acute angles for sound attenuation,” says Barry Fries, CEO for B.R. Fries & Associates. “So when someone was in a meeting or in a telephone booth, the sound would be contained within the space. The layout was very critical. We used a lot of digital laser equipment for getting those angles correct in the field and getting them fabricated at the glazers’ shops so everything fit together properly.”

Other private rooms are hidden behind millwork walls of vertical recycled wood slats that form abstracted images of music icons. The images appear to change, depending on your perspective in the space.

“There’s a variety of meeting spaces to complement the open desk areas, and there weren’t enough of those types of spaces in the old office to serve the number of employees they have,” adds Graney. “Rooms were always booked; people were always looking for space to do their job.”

“Because they’re growing quickly—and they also have performers come for informal concerts—they needed a larger space for ‘all-hands’ meetings or for a musical performance,” which the former office space was lacking, says Karl Jensen, ABA Studio architect.

Flexible spaces, including the grand staircase and an amphitheater, were incorporated into the plan that can be used for musical performances, large gatherings or company-wide meetings. Listening to music can be both an individual and a group experience, but not all performances are required listening for employees. The spatial organization of the floors makes the events visible but not always audible so employees can focus on their work.

In the double-height entry area, a large screen made up of translucent discs backed by a blue theatrical scrim adds a sense of scale. It’s also the wow factor the client wanted to inject into the new office space that would impress visitors and employees alike.

“The bright colors give it a visual energy,” says Jensen. “We based [the dot-matrix pattern] somewhat on Pandora’s homepage … We modified it in different ways on different surfaces to animate the space: the wood wall that’s modified to be the images of different musicians, the glass surfaces with the dot patterns that [spell out] the names of the conference rooms that are named after music venues in New York City, the graphic wood grain pattern wrapping one of the conference rooms, and the screens in the double-height space.”

Many of the sleek and modern elements are the focus, but a juxtaposition of the old and new give it character. Since the space is located in a 1920s office tower, it has rugged, early 20th-century columns, beams, and floors. Most all of these details are purposely exposed so as to not forget the past, although the space is very forward-looking. In the double-height entry, a “tree” of LED bulbs, like the kind you typically see illuminating music venue marquees, points upward as a suggestion of growth.

With its new office environment, the company’s already looking to reach new heights in sales and user base numbers. Ultimately, Pandora’s new office design stands for its optimism for what’s to come.