The Story

To remain in the city’s downtown core after growing success and significant expansion, a new head office was requisitioned for accommodating over 800 employees, where the challenge became to convert eight storeys of a new, but standard, office tower into a creative innovation hub. The mandate was to apply the best evidence-based principles of high functioning office design to ensure an innovative and collaborative workplace focused not just on productivity, but also employee health and wellbeing.

"Successful collaborations depend on accidental encounters"

Successful collaborations depend on accidental “collisions,” where employees can easily share ideas, diversifying the feedback they receive for them. Therefore, the vertical organization of the office begins with an open stair that rises continuously through all eight floors. Integrated seating along the side of the stairs increases socializing, a sense of office culture and collaborative opportunities. Additionally, a large two-storey cafeteria space, connected by two additional spiral staircases wrapped in raw steel ribbons, doubles as a flexible performance and social gathering venue. Not least, a gourmet kitchen ensures healthy food choices for staff.

Evidence demonstrates that productive offices require a balance of spaces facilitating both collaborative interaction and focused individual work. The office, therefore, contains a carefully structured ensemble of varied spaces providing workers what they need and want at different times for different tasks. Each has an assigned “home” workstation, however, within a nonhierarchical office landscape, choice and control over where work is done resides with each employee. In addition to clusters of open, unpartitioned workstations—always along windows for natural light and views—there are multiple enclosed boardrooms for both collaborative and focused work, an array of semiprivate nooks and alleys tucked into pockets of space along exterior windows, as well as armchair salons for informal meetings, conversations, reading, or just working on a laptop. There are even climb-in, upholstered pods—sort of “creativity wombs.”

Enclosed collaborative rooms veer away from fish bowl transparency opting for visual privacy with light from strategically placed ribbon windows. Various acoustic strategies from calibrated glass for interior windows, to large fabric covered light fixtures that also absorb sound and reduce echoing are used to mitigate noise.

Each floor has its own theme that explore different parts of the city from back alleys, to urban streetscapes and cabin retreats. These themes, however, are subtly expressed with authenticity achieved through real materials and custom work by local talent and avoidance of the fake. Works of art celebrate communal spaces including one floor with graffiti art commissioned from Montreal mural artists. Colours are bold and fresh, natural and muted, or subtle and sophisticated depending on the theme and functioning of the space. Even smell is considered with a large, cedar clad lounge in which the aroma of the unfinished wood encourages relaxation. The result ensures texture, rich materiality, and visual stimulation.

The design of this office responds to an emerging idea that moves beyond work/life balance to work/life integration where the work environment can be as comfortable as home; spaces where creative employees are happy to call their own.

Photography: Doublespace photography; Union Eleven