The architectural firm Atelier Barda was mandated in September 2016 to expand the headquarters of SSENSE, a fashion platform known for its exclusive original content and a curated selection of over 400 fashion and luxury designers for men and women. Located in a neighbourhood that was once home to Montreal’s textile industry, the space has a surface area of 24,000 square feet, and was formerly used for logistics and warehouses. The project involved the complete redesign of the existing space to meet the company’s growing needs while staying true to its strong brand image.
The main objective was to design a functional space that would speak to its original purpose and conserve its industrial look and feel by paring down rather than adding on.
The vast space was entirely stripped and remodelled with a strictly minimalist design, giving it a neutral yet unique aesthetic. Far from ostentatious, the architecture has a deliberate no-name quality that perfectly matches the company’s values and ever-changing needs. The raw nature of the finishes creates an architectural signature in which absence paradoxically becomes a language in itself.
Careful attention was paid while studying the working relations between the different departments within the company.
As a formal request of the client, the project asked for a large open workspace, where executives sit amongst their team. Dismantling office hierarchy, the space would nourish the collaborative culture of SSENSE. It was therefore essential to minimize distance between the different teams in order to centralize formal and informal meeting spaces, in addition to creating strategic hubs. In this context, closed offices and more private alcoves were positioned on the periphery of the shared work area to allow for free movement and exchanges among collaborators. Significant consideration was given to encourage communication amongst employees, stimulating creativity and autonomy while maximizing productivity. Workspaces for employees include bundles of long desks, break-out alcoves, communal standing desks and quiet rooms for silent work.
The lobby has a dramatic, sequenced, almost cinematic approach, leading from a dark vestibule toward the predominantly white open-plan space. Facing the main entrance, the luxurious lounge space acts as an oasis within the main circulation area, breaking with the neutral aesthetic. The idea was to create a more intimate space to encourage social interactions and informal meetings. In addition, the flexibility and fluidity of the space allow for the organization of corporate events for networking and celebration. The lighting grid of the former warehouses was conserved and reconfigured into a graphic linear grid.
In addition to remodelling the space, Atelier Barda also designed a complete collection of custom furniture through its Foraine division. The wickerwork chairs in the lounge area, the solid organic-shaped low tables covered with tiled Italian terrazzo, the sleek stainless steel coffee counters and stools, the bookcase, and the conference tables are all original Foraine pieces developed in close collaboration with local artisans.
The collection of innovative furniture was carefully designed to be both bold and functional while respecting the context of implementation. The numerous pieces are strategically positioned to carry forward a linearity from the entrance arch. Their materials, textures and colours contrast with the stark neutrality of the surrounding space and embody the elegance of the brand.