Homeless in Vancouver: Hootsuite “dazzle” paints its Brutalist headquarters

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      It’s been over three years since Hootsuite Media Inc., the maker of a popular social media management tool and Vancouver’s best-known Internet start up, leased its current headquarters in East Vancouver from the City of Vancouver.

      On the face of it, the gargantuan three-story, 33,000-square-foot concrete building at 5 E 8th Avenue is far too antisocial a setting for a company big in social media. Originally built in 1986 for the Vancouver Police Department, it’s an unlovely and intimidating Brutalist-style fortress studded with security cameras.

      While Hootsuite immediately remodelled the interior of the building in 2012 around an open plan layout, for over three years, the only external change was a pirate flag flying on the rooftop.

      The new fashion of putting lipstick on a pig

      Painting the alley side of the Fairmont in the blazing heat on July 27.

      Now, hot on the heels of the repainting of the Fairmont Medical Building, Hootsuite is likewise trying to warm up the cold-looking concrete of its corporate headquarters by applying an artful coat of paint.

      The  exterior of 5 East 8th Avenue is in the process being painted up with an abstract mixture of bold colours—orange, pimento red, dark brown, two shades of green. robin’s egg blue, and a bit of creamy beige. The Hootsuite mural is the work of local artist Scott Sueme and is the largest entry in the 2016 Vancouver Mural Festival.

      A dazzling distraction with a history

      John Everett, On London river, 1918.
      National Maritime Museum, London (PAH6702)

      The effect is actually very reminiscent of the experimental Dazzle camouflage of the First World War. A hundred years ago, this precursor of modern camo patterning employed bold Futurist abstractions to confuse the appearance of surface warships to enemy submarines. Today the strong, colourful design has a similar effect, interfering with and softening the hard lines of Hootsuite’s headquarters.

      Of course the real proof of the paint job’s effectiveness would, strictly speaking, require a test involving a submarine and those are few and far between in the Mount Pleasant area. Though now that I think about it, there is a company that makes them, located just blocks away from Hootsuite, over on 6th Avenue, called Atlantis Submarines International!

      The bricks and mortar of a purely online business

      Hootsuite, the company (in case you don’t know), makes only one product: the popular Hootsuite social media management app, designed to facilitate coordinated marketing campaigns (aka, spam) across all the major social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.

      Hootsuite isn’t publicly traded and I’m not aware that it’s turning a profit yet, but some portion of the app’s reported 11 million users pay monthly subscription fees. Between those fees and venture capital, there’s obviously considerable cash flow—enough for the company to employ over something like 600 people in Vancouver alone. And it now leases or owns two large buildings in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

      Admittedly, the lease for the first property at 5 East 8th Avenue (with an option to buy), signed with the city in 2012, didn’t immediately strain Hootsuite’s finances.

      According to details finally released in 2014, after three months of free rent, in the first year of payments in 2013, Hootsuite’s total rent, property taxes and parking fees paid to the city totaled $692,145.80—while the city’s payments to Hootsuite totaled $741,360.92 (thanks to a one-time tenant improvement allowance of $698,922.00).

      Which is to say that Hootsuite made a profit in the first year of the lease of $49,215.12.

      As analysis of the lease shows that even without the one-time improvement allowance it was especially kind to Hootsuite.

      It would appear that Hootsuite exercised the option to buy the property at 5 East 8th Avenue because it’s no longer listed on Vanmap as owned by the City of Vancouver.

      In 2014 Hootsuite opened a second office, just blocks away from the first, located at 111 East 5th Avenue. This building, built in 1978, is nearly as large as the one on East 8th Avenue and similarly Brutalist in style, though brick-faced.

      It’s unclear who owns it or if Hootsuite bought it outright. The building was a former call centre when it was put on the market in 2012 by the Oxford Properties Group.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.