Recording

L.A. Grapevine, July 2009

During the past two decades, the words studio bau:ton have become synonymous with a readily identifiable style of recording studio design: airy, functional, 7/01/2009 8:00 AM Eastern

Peter Grueneisen of studio bau:ton and nonzeroarchitecture

During the past two decades, the words “studio bau:ton” have become synonymous with a readily identifiable style of recording studio design: airy, functional, welcoming and subtly luxuriant. In making the rounds of SoCal studios, I've come across a number of striking spaces that epitomize the studio bau:ton aesthetic, including Hollywood's Record Plant and Levels Post, Santa Monica's Art Institute L.A. and Culver City's NPR Studios. When I dropped by a Neve bash at Fox's Newman Scoring Stage in 2007, I had my first encounter with the design firm's founding partner and principal architect, Swiss-born Peter Grueneisen — and it turned out he was responsible for the very space we were standing in, as I might've guessed from its understated elegance.

When studio bau:ton co-founder Peter Maurer branched out to form his own company, PCM:T in 2004, Grueneisen renamed bau:ton to nonzeroarchitecture “as an architecture firm for any kind of building or project, and studio bau:ton became a part of that as a specialized studio-design entity,” he explains. “But bau:ton isn't a company anymore; it's now more of a brand, because it had been around for so long and we thought it was valuable to keep it.”

Grueneisen explains that “bau” is German for both “building” and “the act of building,” while “ton” is the word for “tone” or “sound.” The name also relates to the Bauhaus school of modernism, one of studio bau:ton's primary reference points, along with the mid-century style pioneered by architects like Richard Neutra (Grueneisen restored a pair of Neutra houses) and elements of contemporary design. “But we always adapt so that the design fits what the client wants,” he notes.

The current firm, which comprises a staff of eight, got its name from the game-theory concept of non-zero sum, in which the interests of the participants overlap, as opposed to zero sum, in which they're pitted against each other. “I liked that idea because what we try to do is find a balance between people's interests so that everyone comes out ahead; the best projects are the ones that result from a strong dialog,” says Grueneisen, who has certainly demonstrated a flair for naming things. “That's the easy part.” [Laughs]

“We're from the architectural point of view,” he says of nonzero, “so we know how to put buildings together, and I think that's a big difference from rooms that are built by people who come from having worked in studios. Acoustics are the most important part of the project, of course, but I'm not so sure that the studios that have been built by acoustical engineers are necessarily the best studios out there. Even now, I look at every studio basically as an architectural problem, not necessarily as a studio. I'm pretty happy with this combination of trades, so to speak.”

Among nonzero's ongoing projects is a studio building for Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Productions in Santa Monica, the latest stage of an ongoing, multi-year project that will soon proceed with the construction of a scoring stage. “Hans has a whole complex of buildings, and in 2005 we started reworking them one at a time,” says Grueneisen. “The first go-round involved designing three composers' suites and then two more, as well as a lounge and several general areas. Then, last year, we began a complete remodel of a building that has five suites, plus four sound-design/composing rooms for a total of nine. Hans' main studio has a turn-of-the-last-century aesthetic almost — so his own taste is a little warmer and more traditional. And that makes for a really good mix, because what comes out is a little bit of both.”

There were two mandates for the project: one aesthetic in nature, the other more technical. “The buildings were all over the place,” says Grueneisen, “and Hans wanted it to have more of a common thread so that it became more like a campus rather than a bunch of unrelated buildings. So, architecturally, a big part of the project was pulling it all together. And then, a lot of the rooms had been designed as studios, but not to a high level of sophistication. So he wanted to upgrade that as well, in terms of soundproofing, more accurate acoustics — just more state-of-the-art. The suites are for individual composers who work with him; they're sort of sub-clients who chose their own finishes, so we worked with each of them. But even though it's a mix, the way it's coming out is very consistent.”

The company also recently finished another multi-year project in Santa Monica, this one for James Newton Howard. Along with Zimmer's scoring stage, upcoming projects include a studio for Santa Monica City TV, 740 Sound Design in Playa del Rey, Red Amp Studio at the 9WG facility in Richmond, Va., and several home studios.

“In terms of the studio design itself and the acoustics, we've always looked at it as a mix of the scientific and the artistic, which is very similar to architecture as a whole,” he points out. “But what we absolutely don't want to do is the voodoo approach, where nobody knows how it works but it's fantastic. We don't go for that at all. At the same time, there's definitely value to places like The Village, where it has grown over time and it's not sterile or so high-design that you can't touch it. I'm not so much for that either.”

The intangible in this pursuit is the vibe: If you're going to spend weeks or months in a particular space while involved in a creative project, it helps if the space is both comfortable and inspiring. That's what Peter Grueneisen aims for and what he delivers.

Send “Grapevine” news to Bud Scoppa: bs7777@aol.com.