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Famed American architect Daniel Libeskind once said that “Cities are the greatest creations of humanity.” And in a way, he’s right—every city in the world represents more than a mere collection of streets, buildings, parks and people;
they form a collective identity uniquely shaped by their inhabitants and the histories unfolded within their neighborhoods.
In essence, cities are man’s attempt to create unity in diversity—a concept not lost on the design team of Montreal-based Sid Lee Architecture as they worked to create a new headquarters for their client, Attraction Media.
As a media conglomerate consisting of six separate divisions, each with distinct missions and personalities, the goal of the project consisted of creating an office space that would house the various companies under one roof without dissipating their respective identities.
“Our approach is twofold,” explains Jean Pelland, architect at Sid Lee. “Because we have this instinctive link to a marketing company, part of our focus and initial intent was to shift from the usual practice of architects and look more for what we call the ‘architecture of identity.’” Pelland says that the firm’s research is focused on uncovering the identities for either the client or project (or both), and how these can be built out of a better understanding of the relationship between the client or end-user. “Therefore, it becomes very much a user-centric architecture, because our focus will be angled toward the users of the space,” he says.
As a result of the information gleaned during the programming phase with the client, the design team at Sid Lee developed a clever metaphor of a city, which saw the 37,000-square-foot office transform into a small-scale metropolis, complete with plazas, streets and perspectives. Inspired by the urban landscape of its Montreal home, the space boasts unobstructed views of the cityscape, the Olympic Stadium and the Jacques Cartier Bridge. This city concept brought together the client’s separate divisions—Jet Films, Bubbles Television, Cirrus Communications, Delphis Films, La Cavalerie and Attraction Media—into unique, clearly identifiable “neighborhoods.”
Given the complexity of the various divisions existing underneath the Attraction Media umbrella, and the fact that not all of them can coexist easily, “we tried to work in a certain metaphor or a parallel to the city, so that the concept could reflect something that actually exists in the city, where you have quarters that are sometimes based on the nature of the people living there, based on backgrounds,” Pelland explains.
“For instance, in Montreal, we have a Fur Quarter, where there used to be tanning industries and fabricators of fur coats, so there’s this real distinction between some neighborhoods. We used that as a basis of our concept to scale it down and work on these diversities, but also try to find a common area for the whole project.”
Among the most striking features of the project is the introduction of a spectrum of vivid colors that delineates each of the company’s various divisions as you move through the space. Although one would assume that the colors correspond to the various brands’ existing identities, Pelland notes that the goal for the design was to create an original approach to each division, so new colors were introduced that represent the design team’s interpretation of the activities happening within them.
For instance, a bright yellow area denotes the Bubbles Television division, which is a French-language TV company that produces new game shows and is spearheaded by “a very forward-thinking, vibrant person,” Pelland explains. “So we used, through the means of these colors—the brightest of all colors—to kind of create that signature.”
In the common area (or plaza), the colors of each company are also carried through a series of boxes and within graphic design elements to further illustrate that the various brands all coexist under one roof, Pelland adds.
Another defining feature of the project, which is located in an old industrial neighborhood and built into a ‘60s-era, loft-like floor plan, is the amount of natural light that floods the space through a series of expansive windows. With conference rooms and private offices located in the core of the building, all of the open areas housing workstations and collaborative areas benefit from daylighting and stunning views of the city.
“There’s this outward-looking concept that we were trying to work with, so the positioning of all of our spaces, actually, lend to researching the best angles or the best view framing the outside from within, just to make sure you could feel once you walk into the space that there’s this connection to the city,” he says. “And that once you’ve stepped out of the elevator, there’s this reverse effect where, while stepping into the office, you can actually feel the outside again. So all of the open spaces where people mainly live and do their daily work, they’re all designed that they do have this connection to the outside.”
Given that companies across the board are looking to maximize the use of space—with the average area allotted per worker in the U.S. now projected at only 100 square feet—flexibility was also a key consideration in the design process.
“It’s absolutely necessary that there is a thought of flexibility,” Pelland says. “Having very large amounts of space is no longer something that people are looking for, the companies that we work with. They are trying to maximize the usage of space.”
This was especially true for Attraction Media and its subsidiaries, which by their very nature employ a large number of freelancers that can vary from 40 to 60 to 80 people, depending on the project. “There’s inevitable need for space, so it’s almost like a lung that inflates and deflates all the time,” Pelland notes. “You have to think of how you use a table where someone can actually have a neighbor for a certain amount of time and then when that person is gone, they regain their space. So it really has to be flexible enough to adapt to these situations.”
In the end, Sid Lee created a dynamic, yet functional new office that allows the diverse personalities found within Attraction Media’s subsidiary companies to shine through. “We really focused on vitality—allowing people to live within the space and bring their own essence to it,” says Pelland. The client agrees, saying there has been sufficient thought put into the project, allowing people to collaborate and enjoy each other’s company.
“There’s really a sense of creating a small community within the
company,” Pelland adds. “And that, to me. is what is the most successful aspect of this project.”
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