A place for us

Founded in Toronto in 1974, the IBI Group is an urban development consulting practice with 1,400 employees around the world. Its Toronto headquarters comprises two buildings on Richmond Street West: 240, a 100-year-old, six-floor industrial edifice; and 230, built next door 20 years ago. Together they house the engineers, architects, urban and landscape designers that make up the four divisions of the company: urban land, facilities, transportation and systems.

In August 2004, IBI purchased Marshall Cummings, the 35-year-old Toronto interior design firm. This brought to IBI a house team that could provide the required level of interior design on diverse projects, as well as service a rapidly growing health care business. Upon the retirement of Marshall Cummings’ two founding partners, in February 2006, the remaining 35 associates, designers and staff moved to IBI’s Toronto HQ.

“After the merger, it was business as usual at our old 43 Davies Avenue,” says Barry Nathan, associate in charge of the relocation. “When we moved into Richmond Street, the thought was just to take the space and not to spend too much money and try to get the synergy going.” The retrofit involved the addition of a ramp to reconnect the two buildings at the sixth-floor level, “and in a move of this kind, any space is the best space,” says Nuno Moreira, senior interior designer relegated with the retrofit. Within the 7,500-square-foot industrial space, “we inherited a large curved wall,” Moreira continues, “which was deemed unnecessary to remove on the first go-round of renovation.” It now serves to separate the design library (with its often vertical cacophony of materials and finishes samples) and the design studio (a horizontal landscape of work stations, with adjoining surfaces often covered with drawings).

Also a given, happily, are the 100-year-old building’s tongue-and-groove pine ceiling, Douglas fir posts and beams, and banks of south, west- and north-facing window – together providing a refreshing break from Marshall Cummings’ more corporate environs. A continuous Unifor Lab bench was mounted on the perimeter of the studio to foster an organic, flexible team approach to design, as well as to support 30 retrofitted workstations and Global Viceversa kidney-shaped tables. New Interface carpet tile unifies the various activities on the floor. “Existing indirect studio lighting was a good find,” says Moreira. Suspended halophane fixtures, also existing, along with new Artemide sconces, complete the floor’s ambient lighting needs; fluorescent, par and halogen were installed in the sample library to best specify materials and finishes for the variety of lighting conditions found on projects.

In the reception area, frosted-glass sliding screens from C-living, panels of alabaster-like resin from 3form and a white powder-coated steel Moooi chandelier – Dandelion, by Richard Hutten – create a playful ambience. The boardroom houses a bird’s eye maple table brought from the previous digs; coloured Forbo panels mounted on the walls provide space for vertical display of drawings and other temporary visual support material for client presentations.

The simple facelift, the creation of a hub based on existing lighting grids and the reopening of the connection between the two buildings – these are just the beginning. “It’s a nice feeling in the design studio from a synergy level, from how people are working together, and I think the intent is to just build off that,” says Nathan. “It’s almost a year later now, and we’re finding that in order to fit people in but not compromise the use of the space, we’re probably going to tear out the curved wall and bring in another six to eight people.”

Now fully integrated into IBI, the interior design division – having set a precedent with the successful creation of its own space – is helping to redesign some of the firm’s facilities in other cities.