Chimney, Stockholm

A technologically advanced office carved from an 18th-century customs house, whose architects have laid a light touch.

The story of Chimney Group’s new Stockholm office is a familiar one, although the results are undeniably impressive. The international communications agency wanted to bring its 200 employees from disparate locations around the city into one super-cool mega office that would do extraordinary things for the company’s image as well as enhance its creative output. Having been founded in Stockholm in 1995, Chimney has since branched out to ten offices around Europe and Asia, so in a sense, this new HQ was coming full circle, and it had to be just right.

With a listed 18th-century building in Stockholm’s old town to work with, and all of the attendant regulations and hoops to jump through, Swedish firm pS Arkitektur AB had its work cut out from the start. The design process began in spring of 2014 for a December 2014 move-in date – so a very quick turnaround was needed on top of all the practical challenges that come with working on a protected historic building.

It was never an option to go the easy route and find a slightly newer building in a less fashionable part of town, of course. “They wanted a striking space – not just a regular office building,” explains one of the project architects, Beata Denton. “They have a lot of interesting visitors from all over the world – creative people, clients. Hollywood directors and producers… even Madonna came to the studio to watch a piece of their footage,” she says. And really, an office needs to be extraordinary if it’s to host the likes of Madge.

The biggest hurdle by far was that Chimney’s new headquarters – 4,000sq m of space over seven floors – required state-of-the-art editing suites, sound studios and a highly technical viewing cinema (all non-negotiable for the company’s day to day work) without altering anything structural in the building. “We couldn’t so much as put a nail into the wall without talking to the heritage people,” says Denton. This meant coming at the design sideways, so to speak. What looks at first glance like a fairly straightforward fit out was actually one of the most complicated projects that pS Arkitektur has ever undertaken.

Virtually nothing could touch the existing walls and electricity and cabling was totally ruled out – a bit of a challenge with so many high-tech requirements in the new space. But the team was able to work with what was already there. They started with the client-facing communal area under the vaults on ground level, and moved up through the office floors, which feature a mixture of open-plan desking, single person offices, conference rooms and editing suites.

Arguably the architects’ biggest coup is the soundproofed cinema on the ground floor – a pod-like structure that was designed as an isolated box with its own insulated walls, ceiling and floor, none of which touch any of the existing walls of the building. It manages to stifle noise from the busy common space just outside of it with many layers of insulation and netting, specified by a specialist acoustic engineer. “It was really challenging. It shouldn’t work but somehow it works really well,” Denton laughs.

Perched on the edge of the city’s shipping harbour, the building was originally a customs depot, and remnants of its past can be seen in the giant metal hooks that were used for weighing goods as they came through the ground floor. Its vaulted ceilings and gaping internal spaces, now home to the reception area and a generous lounge for meeting, working and eating, were a gorgeous starting point for the architects but problematic in a bustling office. “We were allowed to put acoustic riveting on some very crucial walls because they really couldn’t use the space the way it was; it was incredibly echoey,” explains Denton. These and all light fixtures were installed with as little impact to the building as possible, she adds.