The tech boom may have gone bust, but there are plenty of signs of recent good times around. Take the Atlanta headquarters of iXL Enterprises, Inc., an e-business consulting firm that has since merged with Scient Corporation. The company’s 500,000-sq.-ft., three-building complex, designed by Arquitectonica, presents a vibrant high-tech face to the world, starting with a front entrance that beckons the visitor into a customer solutions center contributed by Disney Imagineering. But nothing typifies the iXL corporate culture as much as the company cafeteria, which doubles as a corporate events room. This 2,000-sq.-ft. space’s colorful party atmosphere is due to a theatrical approach, particularly in its imaginative application of a Martin Professional automated lighting system, run off a LightJockey DMX controller.
The room is crucial to iXL’s identity, says Sylvia Bistrong, of Miami-based ISP Design. Bistrong’s firm was handed the job of designing lighting systems for the Atlanta headquarters and for iXL offices across the country. "Putting on presentations is a key part of their business because they’re graphic designers and website builders," she says. "I went with Martin because they’re at the height of technology for movable fixtures, and iXL was on the cutting edge—everything is about the future and being the best. Their clients are Fortune 500 companies like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Virgin Airways. They do presentations, displays of what they are going to develop for the client. That room was created because the president and founder, Bert Ellis, wanted a place where, at lunchtime, they could set up special events in the facility." He also wanted a hanging-out space for iXL’s hard-working employees, who at one time numbered about 3,000. The room includes stylish Knoll furniture, pool and hockey tables, a bar for happy hour, even space for dancing to the computer-synchronized music and lighting.
Arquitectonica brought Bistrong into the project during the design and development stage, but the cafeteria was the last room in the facility to be addressed. "They were unsure what they were going to do with that space," says the lighting designer, who went floor by floor on-site—an existing structure previously occupied by the company Equifax—answering Ellis’ call for a fun, dynamic work environment. One unusual mandate: dimming ability throughout, to lend an air of drama to the presentations. "All of the conference rooms have Crestron AV interfaces so everything can be digitally linked, and there are huge projection screens for telecommunications conferences all over the world," Bistrong says. The entire complex was set up on a Lutron 6000 system, run from a word processor, and programmed, says the LD, with "32 scenes—different moods for everything."
Another mandate: no fluorescents. "Most of the work surfaces have three to four computers," says Bistrong, "and fluorescents bouncing into your computer screen is what they didn’t want." What they did want was theatricality. "They were really into ‘let’s bring some color in, make it more theatrical,’ so that’s what we did in the programming."
The company’s whimsical style is apparent at once. Customers and other visitors who arrive at iXL are essentially greeted by two Martin MiniMAC Profiles, which light the way down a long, zigzagging corridor lined in cold cathode. If you’re a Coca-Cola dignitary, you may see gobo patterns of your company’s logo on the walls. "We tried to entice people through this entrance that’s very futuristic," says Bistrong. "You don’t feel like you’re walking into a typical office space, you feel like you’re walking into a theatre. That concept was carried through the entire facility. Everywhere you go, it’s like, ‘I can’t wait to get around the next corner.’ Arquitectonica used all these ellipses and circle shapes, and the workstations are done in the newest Knoll system."
A huge, sinuously curving table helps bring this aesthetic into the cafeteria—or "rec room," as the LD refers to it. But this space presented several challenges. Its dimensions, approximately 30' wide by 70' long, were rather awkward. "They knew they were going to have a cafeteria and a bar on the side," says Bistrong, "but they just didn’t know how they were going to attack that long room." The idea of using one end of it as a staging area with roll-down projection screen was adopted early, but would the room work for televised news conferences, or for major presentations to several hundred people? The LD says of Ellis, "He’s high-energy, amongst the crowd, walking around." That required a lighting system that could follow him. In addition, everything had to fit into the odd parameters Arquitectonica had set with its ceiling design, a drywall section with eight large circular cutouts floating below, and exposing a good deal of, the concrete ceiling structure.
The Big Moving-Light Demo
A visit to the Martin showroom in Hollywood, FL, helped clarify matters. "The iXL team used to come down to Florida for our meetings," says Bistrong. "I have a few MiniMACs in my lighting lab, and I showed them. They were so interested in the fixture that I said, ‘I’m definitely using these in our front entrance.’ They liked that concept, so on their next visit, I took them to Martin. I said, ‘I want to wow them. If we can make this work in their rec room, we’ll have a killer design.’" Upon seeing a demonstration of Martin lighting equipment and control options, the iXL staff saw the array of possibilities, and the resulting design, says the LD, answered architectural, presentational, and broadcasting needs, as well of those of pure entertainment. "The company throws lots of parties. Why rent a room when you have a space that’s the size you would rent anywhere?"
The Windows-based LightJockey, which is more commonly known for its use by the club and mobile DJ market, was key. "When you’re talking to an Internet company, they’re all about computers," Bistrong says. "The fact that the lighting system was on computers, that they could pre-program something, download it, and never have anybody in the booth—that was it. It was real important, when we brought in all of the MiniMACs and theatrical fixtures, that we could interface with the Lutron 6000 system and, because we were computer-based, we could do that." In addition to four MiniMACs in the room, Bistrong specified six MAC 500s and four PAL 1200s, along with MAC 600 NT wash lights and RoboScan Pro 918 scanners. Architectural lighting includes circular tracks of Zumtobel Staff AR111s in the ceiling rings, Lucifer downlights, and Modular International recessed fixtures along the sides. But the automated lighting generally dominates. "If we wanted to throw a small concert there, we could," says the LD.
The LightJockey, in conjunction with the Martin Lighting Director, a 3D tracking system for automated followspots and show control, was the perfect system for iXL’s presentations, says Erik Magnuson, president of Magnum Companies, Ltd., a Martin dealer that provided installation and technical support at the facility. "There are basically two different areas that the automated lighting addresses—the presentation area and the rest of the room," he says. "The space is physically too large, with the height of ceiling we had, for a single system. So there are actually two overlapping systems. A presenter can come into the space, move through the audience, come into the presentation area, and always be followed. That was a key element in how Sylvia had to lay out the fixtures, so they could pick up somebody pretty much no matter where they are in the space. They’re using Lighting Director in a different way than you would expect in a typical theatrical performance or concert application, and at the same time it’s really appropriate for the kind of presentation these people like to do."
Installing the System
Magnum Companies, brought in by Martin to lay out the cafeteria’s control system (a task taken on by LSD in the company’s customer center), immediately came up against the challenges of the ceiling. "It’s poured-in-place concrete, and it’s old, and very hard," says Magnuson of the structure, which is also fairly low: about 16'. "We had to lay in the points before they could finish the drywall ceiling, because some of the truss locations were below that. After they put the gyp board in, we then came back and hung the trusses. There were some very particular requirements for the cable routing, because iXL wanted to minimize the exposed conduit." That was another challenge, because of the large open rings in the floating drywall. Bistrong saw to it that everything above the gyp board—equipment and structure—was painted black. Still, "they wanted to keep the conduit runs to an absolute minimum, which meant running them up within the concrete beam structure," says Magnuson. That things went as well as they did, he adds, is partly thanks to the fact that "Sylvia did a terrific job on the basic design work and system layout, which made it easy for us to come in and build the infrastructure. But we weren’t in a position to make substantial changes once those points and the ceiling had gone in; there was no room to get in between the drywall and the structure."
Besides installation and basic programming of the system, Magnuson’s other major role on the project was to provide ongoing technical support. "Having Erik—who’s known in the industry and is a good guy—subcontracted for special events was another plus," says Bistrong. "When you’re bringing in corporate clients, you want somebody there who’s got a bit of business sense and can be on their level." Magnuson says, "iXL’s guys are not automated lighting technicians. They can handle the programming end of it, but whenever they’ve got any issues, we supply tech support. Our production staff is used to working in places like this, with a system that has many different things going on in it, in a non-traditional application. We do a tremendous amount of production in unfinished spaces—maybe it’s a party for prospective tenants in a new building that’s going up, or a fundraiser for a historic preservation group that’s going to renovate an old warehouse, and we’re throwing the party in the warehouse before it’s been renovated."
But for everyday use of the system, Magnuson did two days of training for three of the iXL AV staff (only one of whom remains, however). "The first day, we did a training session here at our shop, kind of a mini-Martin University session," he says. "We did a take-it-apart, put-it-back-together-again on the fixture types that are in their system. That was to get them to understand how the units work, so they could intelligently assess problems. Then we went over to the iXL rec room and went through the real hardcore programming part of it. They took to it without any problems at all. LightJockey is perfect for these folks, because they’d rather work a keyboard, a mouse, a joystick, and see something on a computer screen, than have console-type control with handles and faders and that kind of stuff."
Magnuson helped the iXL crew build its "library of looks." He says, "They can make the place go anywhere from this nice quiet breakfast space to some crazy, out-of-control disco." The standard lunchtime "scene" relies heavily on music and interfaced MiniMACs for atmosphere. "Every day, they have a different CD," says Bistrong. "They go in before lunchtime, put the CD in, and the music is played as the gobos are going around the room. They’re in color, or they’re in white." Often the gobos display the iXL logo—just in case the employees forget for whom they’re working. For relax time, roughly 5 to 10pm, there is a separate music-to-gobo library. "They pick up the energy as they go through the day," says Magnuson.
Presentation programs, he continues, "are pretty customized, but again, they have a library of looks. A podium may go over stage right or stage left, they may be doing it with one screen, two screens, or no screen. They’ve got a stage wash set up, they’ve got some area highlighting done, and then they can take those individual elements and very quickly build them into a scene. That’s one advantage of it being a permanent system, that they have the time to do that." Magnuson compliments Bistrong on a "killer design. I don’t know if they’ve had the opportunity to really use the system full out, but in some ways that isn’t any different from what all of us deal with when we buy a computer—you don’t use all the things you get."
Bistrong and Magnuson’s design and layout work on the space was completed in October 2000, and the building opened to iXL employees in November. "I think it was several weeks after that they downsized," says the designer. "All the people who were part of the design team no longer work there. And the one the whole concept came from, Bert Ellis, is no longer there. But the space is still thriving."
Contact the author at email@example.com.
Photos: Allan Toft