Inside the Studio: Force Majeure

By: Bill McCool

In March of 2016, force Majeure left their Manhattan offices, crossed the East River, and moved into Brooklyn’s Industry City. But to hear force Majeure’s founder and CEO Laurent Hainaut tell it, this wasn’t just any move.

“It was a rebirth of a new identity,” he says, “and a new way of thinking for the firm.”

Formerly known as Raison Pure, force Majeure has rebranded themselves and in doing so they were becoming a new company, bringing some old partners along for the ride, but with a few new faces as well.

When you walk inside, their new office, it feels as if you’ve entered an art gallery. There is a clean yet simple look to the entire office, and it's open and inviting with a great deal of light pouring in. Not only that, you’re surrounded by the city and greeted by views of Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty, and downtown Manhattan.

Located on the Brooklyn waterfront, Industry City is comprised of 6.5 million square feet of industrial space that has been repurposed into retail space and offices with such notable tenants as Time Inc. and the Brooklyn Nets. This once again thriving hub of commerce was once known as Bush Terminal and was a major manufacturing and warehousing center. It has since been turned around by the same group that developed the Chelsea Market.

Room To Grow

When force Majeure sat down with architect Koray Duman, they knew there were three main areas they wanted to focus on. First off, they wanted a space where someone could concentrate and work alone. It was also essential that they have a centralized area within their studio for meetings and collaboration. Last, they wanted a space for exhibition and meeting.

Above all, their new studio was to be organized in a way that would be accommodating and highly adaptable to their firm’s needs. “It was a very challenging project,” Laurent says.

At 30,000 square feet, they now had more than enough room, but they also had a limited budget and they needed to focus on what truly mattered. Aside from having an open space with the potential for more growth within, they needed to ensure that they had the technologies to speak to their partners overseas (they also have offices in London and Paris).

Two-thirds of the office is open space creating a blank canvas for the flexibility they desired, while all cabling is confined to the center of the office.

There are rows of tables where employees can have their own personal space, but they can also move about and sit depending on their mood or what they’re currently working on. Additionally, they needed to have space for freelancers to come and go.

The core of the office is comprised of a cluster of smaller rooms—the model shop, library, and photo studio are all centrally located. More importantly, the spaces for collaboration in addition to the conference rooms are smaller and closed off, but there are windows so you can see the work that is actually being produced, giving the whole undertaking an air of transparency.

“It’s a framework,” Laurent admits. “It’s all very flexible.”

He’s right. There’s a wonderful flow to the U-shape of the layout that lends an element of harmony to the studio. You can walk in, greet your coworkers, and sit down—but then everyone can come together in the middle for collaboration.

Better still, they have three times the amount of space they had in Manhattan and while they were previously located in a bustling, historical neighborhood, it was far too cramped for their firm’s needs. Already working on top of one another, they would often have to turn the kitchen into a meeting space. Now they have the freedom to roam and move about: the free range office.

They were also on the second floor of a much larger building in Manhattan and they didn't see very much sun. For them, daylight is important for productivity. “If you don’t have that you’re living in a bubble,” Laurent says.

A Community of Creatives

“In terms of the community,” creative director Michelle Mak mentions, “there’s a sense of combined pioneer-ism that people have in Industry City.”

With five acres of open space, there are plenty of courtyards outside where people can mingle and have lunch. “There’s a sense of a community that’s just getting started,“ Michelle says. “In Manhattan, you go outside and you go about your business, but now there’s a real sense of community. Everyone is more or less in a creative field. It’s a cool gathering place.”

This kind of interaction is what Industry City prides itself on: they’re a hotbed for cross-pollination across different disciplines. To Laurent, once you step outside, it’s like being on campus at a university.

“They’ve created a real life here,” Laurent says. “It’s a very different way of approaching your work and how you go about your day. It’s not Manhattan and it doesn’t have the same international spirit, but it’s more open and large. There are like-minded people. There’s a certain lightness. Seeing the river, seeing the outdoors, you can leave those large spaces and be away from the noise of the city and that’s a positive thing for concentration and tranquility.”

Once a visitor has traveled the concourse of the office, they come to the gallery, a whole wing of the office that was envisioned as a place to gather. As you stroll along and take in some of their art that’s on display, you realize the exhibition space only elevates their incredible work.

Capping off your visit, you come across a colorful and playful bar that was designed by Laurent’s friend Francois Chambard. Behind the bar you’ll find a wonderful illustration by Serge Bloch, a talented artist who has worked with force Majeure on some of their projects in the past—it’s a refreshing reminder of the importance of collaboration to the firm.

Overall, the agency is pleased with the new studio and they’re excited to put down new roots in such an open and welcoming environment.

“The creative process isn’t necessarily just sitting in front of a computer,” Michelle admits. “The freedom to get up and talk in different spaces and have sunlight is a big plus for us.”

“It’s a pretty inspiring place to have,” Michelle says.

Adaptability

But a new space doesn’t mean there’s a new way of working for force Majeure, and despite the rebranding, it isn’t quite a new direction either. If anything, the new studio speaks to how the firm prides itself on adaptability, on how their own design process, like the space itself, is malleable. It’s a true testament to their more than 25 years of experience in the industry and it’s reflected not only in the blueprint for the new studio, but in their DNA as well.

“We don’t have one set point of view,” Laurent says. “We don’t have one way of working. We like the idea of that flexibility.”


Bill McCool
Bill McCool is a freelance writer based out of Los Angeles. Though new to the world of design, he has always been a storyteller by trade and he seeks to inspire and cultivate a sense of awe with the work and artists he profiles. When he's not winning over his daughters with the art of the Dad joke, he is usually working on a pilot, watching the Phillies, or cooking an elaborate meal for his wife.