Text by Jessica Ritz
Images courtesy of Montalba Architects
For a tech company that helps people be rooted in the present, the adaptable, open-air design of Headspace’s Santa Monica headquarters has turned out to be quite prescient.
“Flexibility is such an important part of any forward-thinking company,” says David Montalba, founding partner of Montalba Architects, which designed the significantly expanded offices for the popular meditation app that boasts approximately 60 million users. From the outset through its completion in early 2020, the project transitioned Headspace from a smaller office to a larger campus within Bergamot Station, the sprawling arts complex located on Santa Monica’s once-industrial eastern swath, which is also home to Montalba’s studio.
Like other contemporary workspaces favored in the technology and startup world, the plan Montalba’s team came up with encompassed multipurpose spaces to support a casual yet focused working environment the company could curate and use in nuanced ways like combining workspaces and hosting meditations. The cohesive scheme and improved circulation were stitched together from a hodgepodge of more than 32,000 square feet in three of the four buildings that Headspace occupies. Rather than start afresh, the company’s designers preserved some older parts of the existing structures to “keep that layer of history and add our layer to it,” Montalba says, demonstrated in architectural details such as exposed steel trusses.
The close integration of interior and exterior areas, a skill at which Montalba Architects excels, was intended to encourage collaboration while softening conventional corporate hierarchies. Real estate once allocated to parking and storage was creatively repurposed and activated, with the campus centered around a courtyard that Montalba describes as “the heartbeat.” Relatively little square footage was dedicated to private offices. “I always say it’s weird to be an architect and say the most important thing is the outdoor spaces,” Montalba says. “That’s how I look at the world. I think of the things that mean a lot in my life; it’s often not the things people think, it’s the other stuff. In music, the silence between the tones, not the tones.”
That’s how I look at the world. I think of the things that mean a lot in my life; it’s often not the things people think, it’s the other stuff. In music, the silence between the tones, not the tones.David Montalba
Montalba’s team created an expansive shared theater for gathering, meeting, and working fitted with deep and wide risers, yoga bolsters, other softer surfaces, and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment. A double-height, folding glass and metal frame door allows the theater to engage with the center courtyard while other built-in features and sophisticated soundproofing can close off the space internally. The risers also help filter and manipulate the natural flow of light. “We didn’t invent this kind of seating,” Montalba says. “It’s been around since the Romans.”
Taking advantage of Santa Monica’s year-round, benevolent coastal climate was a priority for Headspace. The ample outdoor space turned out to be a more crucial element than expected. “We were a year or two early with those,” Montalba jokes about the alfresco “rooms” separated by wood trellises, which can be set up for a variety of working scenarios and combined with other parts of the complex to arrange for socially distanced environments that the current times demand.
Other landscape gestures designed by Pamela Burton and Company artfully enhance activities hosted for employees ranging from meditation to yoga classes. Spindle-shaped Spun chairs designed by Thomas Heatherwick add to a sense of playfulness and spontaneity in the central courtyard. Plus there’s another, more compact open-air setting to enjoy at the second level. The exterior “feels very Bergamot,” Montalba notes, with industrial corrugated metal surrounding the discreet entrance and a “James Turrell-like” glowing orange sphere that references the Headspace logo. Montalba Architects opted for an understated material and color palette, empowering Headspace employees to add decorative and chromatic flourishes as they see fit.
Montalba Architects’ goal was “to create the framework” for Headspace to advance its work; mindfulness is ultimately reflected in the way the spaces are used by people. The adaptability and diversity incorporated throughout the headquarters reflect the values of both Montalba Architects and Headspace and help facilitate the latter’s process as it brings meditation to the masses.
“The reality is like in life, you need a good mix,” Montalba says.