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Strange Bedfellows Make Good Roommates in Stations’ Design

Strange Bedfellows Make Good Roommates in Stations’ Design


Contributing Reporter

When Emmis Communications Corp. acquired KZLA-FM (93.9) in 2000, the country music radio station braced for major change.

Plans called for KZLA to eventually move out of its Sunset Strip studios and into new digs shared with an altogether unlikely roommate: hip-hop station KPWR-FM (Power 106).

Could hip-hop and country live together in peace?

Indianapolis-based Emmis hired the design firm of Hellmuth Obata and Kassabaum Inc. to create a space that would allow their vastly different vibes to coexist.

When the two stations were finally moved under one roof last year, the plan was so successful that it earned Hellmuth Obata the Business Journal’s 2003 award for best interior design.

Emmis’ goal was to blend KZLA into KPWR’s existing offices on West Olive Avenue in Burbank’s media and entertainment district, without disrupting KPWR’s operation. Both stations had to stay on the air during the consolidation.

While it sought to create a shared space for corporate departments like human resources and business administration, Emmis wanted to maintain the integrity of each station’s culture.

“We had to strike a balance between the edgy design of hip-hop and the homey warmth of country,” said Brett A. Shwery, the Hellmuth Obata principal in charge of the project.

New techniques

The design challenge led to innovations that may see further use in an era of continuing media consolidation.

The 23,000-square-foot space on the building’s eighth floor is a blend of cutting-edge technology and efficient space for shared business operations. “It was important to find a continuity of the two diverse cultures,” Shwery said.

Each station has its own disc jockey rooms and green rooms where guests can sit before they go on air. Sales, marketing and traffic departments were grouped together by station.

But for Shwery, the most exciting aspects of the project are the studios and the conference room.

Led by technician Steven Lee, Hellmuth Obata built more than a dozen studios: four on-air studios, six production studios, a voice-tracking studio, a mixing studio, an announce booth studio and a conference studio. There is also a server/control room, an engineering room and music libraries.

When artists visit the station and perform live, the shared conference center converts into a performance room, with pivot doors that open to a large corridor with built-in banquet seating that can be used as overflow space. Other common areas include a reception area, a lunchroom and a mail/copy center.

The Hellmuth Obata project team, including Shwery, Lee and Isabel Ruiz-Martin, the designer, implemented the six-phased project in 26 weeks under a tight budget. The move was completed last November.

“We are very happy to have worked with (Hellmuth Obata) on this project,” said Emmis Vice President and Market Manager Val Maki. “I don’t know how this partnership could have been any better. We love the outcome.”

This is the second year in a row that Hellmuth Obata has won the award. Last year it was recognized for its work on the IBM e-business center in Santa Monica. The “Innovation Center” has been largely shut down, but the interior design won numerous awards, including the International Interior Design Association’s “Best of Competition” in 2001. HOK is also the company behind KUSC-FM’s (91.5) studios USC’s radio station.

Best Interior Design – Project: Emmis Communications Corp. studios

Players: Hellmuth Obata and

Kassabaum Inc., Brett Shwery,

Principal-in-Charge; Isabel Ruiz-Martin, Designer; Steven Lee, Technical

The Deal: HOK designers had to overcome not only the logistical challenges inherent in merging the offices of two radio stations, but also to blend the divergent cultures reflected in the respective hip-hop and country playlists.


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