When Google’s gigantic new campus at King’s Cross is eventually completed, the building will be longer than the Shard is tall. At a planned 1,082 ft it’s been dubbed the world’s first “landscraper”, stretching from the station entrance at King’s Cross to the canalside by Granary Square. Along with the company’s existing premises at 6 Pancras Square, and a third planned building in the area, the offices will house more than 7,000 Google employees and is predicted to cost in the region of £1bn to complete.
In the foyer of Google’s current King’s Cross headquarters, you can find an architectural model of the finished campus, encased in perspex alongside a sign asking you to refrain from touching. The submitted plans include massage rooms, a 25 metre swimming pool, and a 200 metre running track around landscaped roof gardens.
But long before this ambitious horizontal behemoth is realised, Google’s existing headquarters at Pancras Square are already an impressive sight. Turn your attention upwards from the model and you can see all 11 storeys of its London operation, from the YouTube team and the employee gym on level two, to the Android engineering teams and the offices of Deepmind, Google’s AI subsidiary, beyond.
One floor below this grand foyer is the YouTube Space, a shared workspace for video creators comprising three soundproofed studios, a workshop area and live editing and production suites. Opened two years ago as a means to help YouTubers develop new skills, work on content and collaborate, the London YouTube Space is one of a collection of 10 around the world. Other spaces are in Berlin, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, Mumbai, Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Rio de Janeiro. “It’s the physical representation of YouTube as a brand,” says Marc Joynes, head of YouTube Space London. “I often call it the Soho House for YouTube creators, if only because it’s easier for media people to understand.”
The free resource is available to any YouTube creator with more than 10,000 subscribers, allowing them access to the facilities for two days each month, but the space also acts as a key stage for musicians who’ve partnered with the platform. Forty per cent of the activity at the London YouTube Space is music-based, says Joynes, with high-profile artists regularly hosting intimate-scale events, launch parties and fan meets. Kylie Minogue recently performed a gig here to an audience of just 15, while Stormzy used the space to debut his Gang Signs & Prayer video, which released on YouTube last November.
It’s not just musicians using the space either. Prince Charles dropped by to learn thatching – as in straw rooftops – from YouTube celebrity and Strictly Come Dancing contestant Joe Sugg. “That was an exciting day, though I didn’t really get a chance to speak to Charles. On his way out he thought I was security,” laughs Joynes.
The ground floor event space is illuminated by floor-to-ceiling windows opening on to Pancras Road, and is also used to host workshops, where creators hold sessions teaching visitors everything from good business practice and audience development to how to use the latest equipment, lighting and VR technology. Bisected by a folding partition, the 50-person capacity space can be expanded to accommodate up to 150 guests, and lighting trusses and staging can be introduced to adapt the space for meetings, presentations or full music performances.
“The whole place can be transformed in a day,” says Joynes. “Working here for six years, every day has been different.” One seemingly permanent fixture of the event space is the café and barista station. “Coffee is terribly important for creators.”
By the entrance indoors, and along a stretch of the road outside, are several large video displays showing a looping montage of clips from what most would consider to be more typical YouTube creators. Updated each morning, it shows a dizzying collage of people dancing with their pets, playing guitars in their bedrooms, animating short cartoons or carrying out precarious looking science experiments in the garden. It’s the tiniest sliver of the vast breadth of video content on the most visited website in the world, after Google itself. The scale is truly unimaginable. More than one billion hours, or 100,000 years, of video is watched on the platform every day.
A YouTube Space logo on one wall acts as a backdrop for short meetings and Instagram selfies, as well as a location for filming ad-hoc interviews. Joynes says that creators like to film around the whole of the London YouTube Space, from the green rooms to the café, rather than restricting themselves to the state-of-the-art studio spaces downstairs. On either side of the logo are interior windows set low on the wood panel wall, which when uncovered overlook stages one and two below. The depth of the walls – there’s about a foot of space inside the window – reveals the degree of soundproofing that’s been built into both studios.
“One of the big business reasons for moving over from Covent Garden was to accommodate more musicians,” says Joynes. In 2016 the London YouTube Space outgrew its 3,500 sqft lodgings at Google’s office in Central Saint Giles, to this 20,000 sqft premises on Pancras Square. “Back then we were essentially a glorified office on the third floor, and as a result if we had someone come in and want to play at 110 decibels, it was going to be a big problem for the whole building.
“Here it was a case of building the studios as boxes within boxes, in a location that wasn’t going to interrupt anyone. The studios are very well acoustically treated and soundproofed to such a high degree that if we have a rock band or a loud production in there, it’s very much self-contained.”
We had Beardyman, who’s a DJ in the UK with a huge YouTube channel, perform a session with Jack Black on guitar in the LA space, remixing him live. With the low-latency, it’s like having him in the next room.
Outside the studios is a selection of Gibson guitars, free for creators to use. At the end of the corridor, guarded by a friendly looking employee, is an entire armoury of high-end camera and lighting equipment of every shape and size, able to fully equip any production setup that’s required. “The studios are the kind you would expect at a Pinewood hangar, or a TV facility within the BBC,” says Joynes. “For us it’s about giving creators the opportunity to think beyond their normal content.”
Nearby control rooms allows creators to livestream directly to YouTube. Upstairs is the smallest of these rooms, with vision mixing, audio mixing and camera calibration decks, and a low-latency, direct feed to the YouTube Space in Los Angeles. “We have five of our spaces hooked up to these live, high-quality feeds,” says Joynes, “which also provides opportunities for global collaboration. We had Beardyman, who’s a DJ in the UK with a huge YouTube channel, perform a session with Jack Black on guitar in the LA space, remixing him live. With the low-latency, it’s like having him in the next room.”
Back in London in studio two, Arsenal Fan TV had just finished recording the latest episode of a new show. “Our channel began when we started going to Arsenal games and interviewing fans,” creator Robbie Lyle told me. “We went down to Arsenal one day armed with a microphone and a camera, and just started interviewing the fans. From there it’s grown and grown.”
Arsenal Fan TV now has over 850,000 subscribers, and Robbie Lyle credits the London YouTube Space with giving his team the opportunity to explore new formats. “We’re filming a new debate show today with a presenter and three guests, so having this three-camera setup is perfect, and not something we’d have been able to do in our own studio.”
“The space is an investment in YouTube content creators,” says Joynes. “And one that ultimately allows them to brainstorm new videos, without having to worry about renting a studio or finding a location to be able to do these things. It’s about taking creators to the next level.”