A Light Show of Ordered Chaos

From the exterior, Montreal-based PixMob’s new head office, technology studio and warehouse appears hardly auspicious. It is lodged in the middle of a plain, single-storey red brick structure of indeterminate mid-20th century vintage sitting among other aging industrial buildings and warehouses north of the city’s crosstown Metropolitan freeway. Only a few signs suggest this gritty area may be getting a new lease on life with conversions into the type of industrial lofts much coveted by the new creative economy.

Inside, however, the approximately 6,000-sq.-ft. office/studio designed by Jean de Lessard first appears as a tightly compacted but chaotic landscape populated with abstracted black boulders, a rich yellow shard and angled pine-board sheds. The light level is relatively low but comfortably mellow and streaked by beams of natural light from two skylights. Stout, original structural wood columns supporting an exposed wood roof deck have been stripped back to their natural state. This, along with the yellowy-white chipped paint left untouched as a raw, tactile patina on the interior brick walls only reinforces the idea of a techno-landscape tucked beneath a unifying tree canopy.

Unlike in newer office buildings, de Lessard believed an “interesting story” resonated; so, he says, “we kept the details on the walls, we removed little to retain the existing incredible mood.”  He eschews, however, a geological reading of the space although not its sense of chaos, albeit an oxymoronic “ordered chaos” that ensures considerable functionality in the plan. “It is the spirit, the energy, the feeling for what goes on at PixMob” he says, that he has sought to infuse in his design.

PixMob is a globally successful firm, established in 2003 as ESKI and renamed in 2014. It is the brainchild of CEO David Parent and MIT-trained Vincent Leclerc, the firm’s Chief Technology Officer. The firm “connects crowds,” particularly those attending large events such as concerts or sporting matches, by supplying each audience member with a LED embedded wristband or neck pendant whose colour is remotely controlled through computers programmed by the company. Other products include light balls that bounce around a crowd morphing from colour to colour in sync with live music, light shows and physical hits, and Helicos, firefly-like swarms dropped into audiences. The Sochi Winter Games, Super Bowl 2014, the NBA All-star Break 2015, Microsoft Xbox ,and musical acts like Coldplay and Taylor Swift are but a few of PixMob’s clients.

On entry, a large black box collaboration room, sculpted like an irregularly cut jewel but opened up with large glazed doors on two sides, blocks the way forward sending one either right or left. To the left, an open area (replete with staff bicycles) accommodates steel stairs leading to one of two side mezzanines housing the two partners’ offices. It then narrows to pass between the black boardroom and a row of closed offices along the west wall. To the right, a dynamically angled yellow fragment wraps behind and over the reception desk and defines one side of the corridor leading to a large open area hosting technicians and programmers. In this space another tall freestanding black monolith encloses two small meeting rooms.

Stretching across the back of the office’s front section is an interior brick wall with its aging paint still in place and punctured by original doorways and glassless window openings.  In the middle of its span, this partition appears to bisect another angled volume, this one clad in unstained pine boards. On the wall’s front south side, the enclosed space is an office while on the north it provides storage. But most importantly, the wood “shed” also frames a kitchen/eating area, an active central piazza washed with natural light from a skylight. To its east is another open workstation area tucked under the second mezzanine while on the west is a second row of enclosed offices. A last black box is pushed back to the rear with corridors on either side connecting to the warehouse. Both in its literal colour, inside and out, and in its function this irregular pentagon-shaped room is a “black box” theatre dedicated to testing company products in sync with lasers used in the shows.

De Lessard wanted to avoid creating a chic white office laid out in a nice rational grid. Instead, he opted for dense black, mottled wood hues and low light to reflect the night but with a slash of eye-popping yellow. When the partners suggested near the end of the design process to replace yellow with white, he responded “you are not accountants, you are not engineers, you are PixMob. The space needs to reflect the feeling of a party, a bar, a creative workshop.”

Working mainly through the night with techno music and flashing event videos from PixMob’s website pulsing away, he set out to massage the audio beat into a spatial plan “that reflects their feeling, their energy.” To illustrate, he draws quickly on tracing paper a random pattern of connected lines while an event video blasts in the background. The result is a series of patterns appearing something between a gyrating stick figure and a Japanese character. “When I am satisfied that a shape gives me the kind of general feeling I want in the space, I massage it into functioning circulation space and then install the different enclosed shapes and open spaces,” he says.

De Lessard’s PixMob office/lab generates an appropriately informal, seemingly anarchic vibe for a company enmeshed in the helter-skelter of night time crowds.  At the same time it delivers a high functioning, efficient work space for a growing creative company.