When the Mill set up shop in 1990, its sprawling London home in Great Marlborough Street, Soho, was described as a ‘cathedral’ to post production. Over the past 24 years, the rabbit warren of colour suites and Smoke and Flame rooms and studios has become an institution of the UK’s advertising scene.
Last week, though, was an end of an era as the team bid farewell to the Soho home. With their lease nearing an end and the 20th century set-up straining to contain the very 21st-century business within its walls, founders Robin Shenfield and Pat Joseph decided that it was time for a change of space. And so the family has moved to a new ‘Mill’, just 10 minutes’ walk away, on the aptly-named ‘Windmill Street’.
Over the past 12 months, the team at the Mill has been working closely with architect Peter Moore to make a new kind of home that can house the company’s various activities, from traditional VFX and post to its creative studio Mill+ and Beam, and allow all of these teams to collaborate more easily. What’s more, with moveable walls and flexible studios, the building has also been designed with a mind to the future.
“From a creative and tech perspective every project is different and so our approach needs to be responsive to this – all of our technology is routable, a suite can change from a 3d room into a 2d room in moments,” says London MD Darren O’Kelly of the malleable design. “We have rolled out an entirely tapeless workflow supported by 75km of state-of-art cabling and 25km of fibre-optics. All this technology and lots more are hidden away but it is this infrastructure that allows the experience to be personal and bespoke."
According to Darren, the move was also an opportunity to define the brand’s strategy and the company’s culture – and to set out the path for future growth and evolution.
“Our aim from the beginning was to create an open, collaborative and social environment for our staff and clients to work, as well as providing a space where clients can really get to know the talent they are working with,” he said. “We believe that great work happens when the right people are put together in an engaging and inspirational space and I think we’ve achieved that at Windmill Street.”
From a design perspective, the move has also allowed the company to use aesthetics to enhance the experience for the people working there and also re-visit and refine its visual branding. The brand has been refreshed and, on the day of opening, the logo was sprinkled throughout the building on cupcakes. The interior is all soft, dark charcoal grey, exposed ceilings, rich wood texture and every floor has a carefully chosen signature colour. And on the top floor the building really comes into its own, with a penthouse bar and terrace looking over the London roofs and balconies, a Bruce Wayne-esque meeting room and studios with the most dramatic, geometric skylights.
But while the new home might seem to have little in common with their previous digs (aside from the talent, of course), Darren points out that the London HQ also has roots in the Mill’s US studios.
"The move from Great Marlborough Street to Windmill Street might feel like quite a leap, but the journey we have taken with our architects stems from years of work across our US studios. Windmill Street takes the best bits from our other studios and distills them in into a London context - creating a studio that simply works intuitively and is a contemporary, relaxed and creative environment,” he said.
For Darren, not only does the Windmill Street building make a bold statement about the Mill’s brand and ambitions – it’s also going to have a big effect on the working culture.
“Our approach is all about working together and sharing ideas, be that with directors, agencies or amongst our own teams – in some respects despite its undoubted charm, Great Marlborough Street was fighting against this approach and quite simply, we outgrew what the building had to offer. Windmill Street is designed to promote collaboration, with communal benches, social spaces and break-out areas on every floor.”
Wandering around the Windmill Street ‘cathedral’, there are lots of little elements that catch the eye, but for Darren his favourite thing is watching people make the most of the space to make creative magic happen.
“It’s hard to pick a best bit, but personally I love the meeting spaces where artists, illustrators, producers, directors and creatives all spend time together,” he says. “It’s very rewarding to see our vision coming to life.”