At BoxOne Labs, Provencher Roy imagines the world of work beyond nine-to-five.
BY: Eve Thomas
PHOTO BY: David Boyer
COURTESY OF: Provencher Roy
“What does a lab for ideas look like?” wonders Anna Westlund. The partner at architecture and landscape firm Provencher Roy asked herself this question before working on a recent project for BoxOne Labs in the Allied-owned RCA Building in Montreal’s burgeoning Saint-Henri neighbourhood.
Its purpose: to be an incubator for start-ups working with BoxOne Ventures CEO Josh Felker, who also uses the space as the headquarters for his asset management firm supporting young companies in areas like financial technology, AI, biotech and cryptocurrency.
Westlund’s previous project with Felker was drastically different in scope and scale: three floors and about 75,000 square feet versus BoxOne’s open concept and 1,500 square feet. But the new location isn’t a step back from his previous venture-capital activities, Felker says. It’s a step into the future.
“Some teams are right out of school, so they can come here to work, to collaborate, rent-free,” says Felker from “his” desk. Far from being a secluded corner suite, it is fully visible and is soundproof only when someone needs it to be. Like almost every inch of the space, the glass panels around him are movable to accommodate different kinds of work, from brainstorming sessions to important meetings.
Also, the “lab” in BoxOne Labs? It’s more than a buzzword. Felker has a degree in genetics, which he says has informed his career as a venture capitalist. It’s what inspired the clean design in the space, from the glossy white epoxy floors to the deep industrial sink in the kitchenette to the giant whiteboard with a library-style rolling ladder (all the better to write notes along the whiteboard’s entire height and length). Even the oversized glowing orb in the main incubator space suggests an operating lamp or, yes, the heat lamp in a literal incubator.
“Yet we didn’t want it to be too sterile,” Westlund notes. “Entrepreneurs and businesses need both sides—science and creativity, left brain and right brain.”
So there are warm wood accents throughout, white wire mesh panels suggestive of the office’s factory setting, a generous lounging area by the whiteboard and some typical green touches from Provencher Roy. The plant life—umbrella plants, Chinese evergreen, philodendron selloum—stretches up inside glass rectangles, like ultra-sleek oversized terrariums.
For Westlund’s part, her academic interest in design and biophilia (the human desire to commune with nature) informs much of her work. “Research shows that natural patterns and materials can help reduce stress and increase productivity,” she explains.
Work-life balance is an especially interesting consideration in 2020, when working from home has become the new normal for many. “Companies have been forced to experiment, but humans are social creatures, and there are certain things you just can’t do virtually,” Westlund says. Like what? She muses, “Mentoring new employees, learning by osmosis, fostering company culture …”
Felker says that he imagined major changes in office set-ups down the road but that the pandemic sped it all up by a decade. “Having an office is important, psychologically,” he says. “Somewhere that’s not a coffee shop or home. But modern tools let us work from anywhere.” Even back in 2019, he wanted the BoxOne Labs space to be less a default destination, more a resource to be used when needed and never by more than a handful of people at a time (special events aside). Above all, he wanted the office to reflect the ideas it fosters—flexibility, innovation and creativity—and to be firmly set in the future.
Felker has a degree in genetics, which he says has informed his career as a venture capitalist.