Buying Local

Photography by Ben Rahn Pleasing the masses is one of the most difficult aspects of designing commercial and contract spaces. Last year, G. Bruce Stratton Architects was presented with the mother of crowd-pleasing challenges: design a space that would encourage an incredible variety of companies, from various cultures, to invest in the province of Ontario.

The new Ontario Investment and Trade Centre is a government space that is being used to host potential investors in the province. The Toronto architectural firm answered a call for proposals demanding an aesthetic that would impress, but not overwhelm. Not only did the call specify an interior that would utilize local materials, but also one that would meet LEED qualifications for a Silver rating. In being awarded the project, Stratton found itself flying headlong into its very first LEED project.

The site for the venture is high atop the office tower that looms over Toronto’s downtown Eaton Centre. The building itself offered a great deal to the design, with panoramic views of the city through windows wrapping the entire floor. These views dictated the layout of the space, with rooms for different purposes matched to the views that best suit them. In turn, meetings could be held in whichever of the multifunctional rooms best serve the function. Literally being able to point towards locations like Niagara or Sudbury, which lay beyond the impressive views, makes presentations a little more theatrical and memorable.

Exiting the elevators on the 35th floor, visitors are brought directly into the space, with reception immediately beyond, avoiding the disorienting feeling that a separate elevator lobby can create and instilling a feeling of welcome. From the first step, local materials dominate. “It became a secondary theme of the project,” Stratton says of the materials palette, “highlighting the resources and the craftsmanship available in the province.” In using these local materials throughout, as mandated, the project does indeed do that, from the moment visitors set foot onto the chocolate Ontario limestone floors in reception. The reception desk itself is a custom piece in white sycamore and curved stainless steel. Behind the desk a long, low window offers a peek into the galleria, a large, open space that is highlight of the project.

The galleria is entered through massive pivoting doors, custom built of stainless steel with brass accents -not the kind of thing that you would typically see on the top floor of a high rise. “We really pushed the limits of what’s technically achievable with those,” says Stratton, explaining that the floors had to be reinforced in order to sustain the weight. Not only that, but the doors just barely fit into the freight elevator when they were delivered.

Inside the galleria, a maple wood floor has been placed on top of the adjacent limestone floor -a necessity due to the shape of the room, the doors, and other structural issues -creating a sort of floating effect. Appropriate for a room that features a ceiling inspired by the inside of a canoe. Stratton uses the words “structural gymnastics” to describe the installation of the maple and cherry slats that cover the sloping ceiling. Twinkling LED lights, peppering a white section that swoops through the ceiling’s centre, create a night sky vibe, even during the day, adding to the feeling that this space could easily be a restaurant.

A careful inspection of this room, and the rest of the project, reveals a great attention to detail -some of it quite intricate. But the overall look is still simple and subtle. “The space is used for so many different functions that it kind of needed to be a blank canvas,” says architect Jenny Hung, who designed the project along with Stratton himself. It’s easy to envision the room being used for any number of events, from formal meetings to more social gatherings.

The galleria is divided from the first of the meeting rooms by a Teknion Optos glass wall system, making that room seem larger and allowing a view of the impressive larger space. These smaller meeting rooms, however, are nothing to sneeze at.

The meeting rooms vary in size, accommodating not only different numbers, but also different cultures. While in North America business is frequently conducted in a large, boardroom type of environment, visitors from other nations maybe more comfortable in a smaller, more personal space. Either way, the centre is equipped. “There’s a consistency in the details that creates a unified look, but each room has its own distinct feel,” Stratton says. For instance, many of the rooms feature silk wallcoverings -but while it’s in a soft khaki colour in one room, in the main theatre, for instance, it’s in a deep red. Offering more than just aesthetic appeal, the silk was also a very LEED-friendly choice. Some spaces feature subtly displayed promotional material, others feature artwork. For instance, in the main boardroom, a close-up photograph of the spray of Niagara Falls. That

room happens to offer a southern view, in the direction of Niagara, which gives both the view and the art added impact.

While the Optos wall creates a transparent transition between the central area and the west wing of the floor, the move to the east-facing section is quite opposite. Past the reception desk the white limestone wall slopes in, creating a sense of intrigue that pushes visitors into a round vestibule that is the hub of the wing, branching off into three large rooms, including the main theatre.

Walking through the space, Stratton is carefully scrutinizing the project, checking to see how things are wearing since completion in February. “They’ve told me they’ve had over 10,000 visitors through here in six months,” he says. “That’s more than they would have all year in the old space.” With that knowledge, and in the current economy, this project is extra nice to see. cI