Working as a production designer for writer-director Alex Garland means creating imaginative worlds that don’t exist—but that potentially could. Garland tapped Mark Digby, with whom he had previously collaborated on Ex Machina and Annihilation, for his new FX series Devs, an eight-episode science-inspired narrative about a tech company doing experimental work in quantum computing. The series, which premieres March 5 on FX on Hulu, is set in San Francisco and Silicon Valley—but was mostly filmed in the U.K.—and follows the employees of a company called Amaya, which contains a secret development lab called Devs.
“Design-wise there are two big elements to it,” Digby explains. “One is the standard public façade, which is this tech company in Silicon Valley that performs high-end coding services based around quantum computing. And then the drama takes us to another building, which is tucked away on campus, perhaps hidden in plain sight, in a clearing." The latter is a purpose-built office for specialized employees to work on the project of a multibillionaire tech leader.
Digby and his team, which included set decorator Michelle Day, used the University of California Santa Cruz campus to double for Amaya, adding design elements to signify the tech company’s unique branding. Interiors were created on a soundstage in London, and the filmmakers went to Westminster College for a few additional spaces. After visiting a few actual tech companies, Digby wanted to ensure that the campus had a strong visual representation.
“You see that embedded in corporate environments,” he notes. “They very much advertise or show their presence to their workers—and to anyone else. You know when you’re on the Google site. We needed a presence for this company, which, in this story, is as big and pioneering as those guys.”
Further into the Amaya campus, through a small forest of redwood trees and past a clearing decorated with reflective beams, is the Devs lab. It’s a cube-shaped building located half above ground and half underground. Inside, the lab itself is housed in a vacuum, which means it floats within the space.
“It partly came from a conversation I had with someone who works in a particular area of tech, and he was talking about the kind of things you would have to do in order to prevent information leaking out,” Garland says. “One of the things he was talking about was vacuums—a vacuum helps you detect any physical thing that is moving in and out of the space, because it would have to break the vacuum to get out. So this was an imaginative response to a room he was talking about.”
The Devs lab itself is comprised of lead, concrete, and gold, all of which work to block numerous types of interference (the actual set was made of wood and plaster). The cubic pattern on the walls is a recurring fractal pattern called a Menger sponge, and the team used 240 squares of gold leaf and 440 panels to create the final look. Overall, Digby and his team spent several months conceptualizing the lab, a month doing technical drawings for its construction, and 15 weeks building it as a working set on a stage in Manchester. What would normally be built as six or seven sets was combined into one massive Devs lab. “That was probably a year in the making from when we said ‘We need a floating cube’ to actually making it and shooting on it,” Digby says.
In the center of the lab is the quantum computer, which is loosely based on real-life machines, but takes a step forward in terms of its design. It was crafted with copper, gold, aluminum, and steel, and took visual inspiration from chandeliers and sculptures. The computer desks used by the coders were also custom designed and built for the space, with embedded keyboards that ensure no one can remove information from the building. It has its own font and iconography similar to those in the other areas of Amaya, and even the water bottles are custom.
“Our job is to design in three months what other people take years or decades to do,” Digby says. “So we very quickly had to pull together lots of references and iterations, and boil down those little details of design that don’t work—it’s pretty awe-inspiring. People will look at this and say, ‘Wow.’”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest