Come together

Office projects can be something of a catch 22. Sure, any designer worth their salt can create a great reception space or lobby. A beautiful desk, an interesting wall feature behind, maybe something cool hanging above, pick some finish materials, throw in a chair or two and you’re done. But actual workspaces always present a challenge. Office space is almost always leased and rarely owned, so the buildings are generic and not built for the specific needs of a company and its workforce.

Most office towers you’ll find in this country were constructed for a very different world than the one we work in today. “Office buildings haven’t really changed in the last four decades,” says Dermot Sweeney, of &Co Architects (formerly Sterling, Sweeney, Finlayson), describing how they were designed for offices where the most advanced technology might have been a Xerox machine. “The generic response from a landlord is based on what was common 40 to 50 years ago and it’s no longer acceptable.” Sweeney had a significant role in both the architectural and interior design of the new Telus House tower in downtown Toronto. Despite the fact that this tower is, like so many others, a leased space, it is anything but typical.

Almost from its inception this building was something different. Toronto firm Adamson Architects had originally designed the base building and when the developer, Menkes, began negotiations to bring Telus in as the main tenant, it was Sweeney who was set with the task of reshaping the building to suit the telecommunications company. Reshaping to suit the tenant? Not the way these things are usually done, but it’s the way Sweeney likes to do them. For years now the architect has worked simultaneously with tenants and landlords. “We’ve been doing this since 1998. The first one was Microsoft,” he says. “We looked at how to make a better office building that offers opportunities to the tenant and landlord. We’ve seen what tenants want. Most buildings, the way they are now, don’t work for a modern company. It costs a fortune just to move a work station.” And it’s true, few office buildings are equipped to not only accommodate, but to take advantage of the technology we use today, and the rapid pace at which it changes.

So Sweeney got to work making adjustments to the buildings design to better address Telus’s brand and incorporate its “Future Friendly” corporate workplace concept, developed for the company by its national design partner, Kasian, who were concurrently working out the interiors. The multidisciplinary firm had been working on Telus projects for more than 20 years, but this was to be the biggest of the company’s spaces they had done.

In the initial stages of the project, Kasian had no Toronto office, and brought in Figure3 as a sub-consultant to bridge the gap in the months before Kasian expanded into Ontario. Kasian’s design came together just a step behind Sweeney’s, as the building’s design was tweaked, with the addition of a dark charcoal podium that cuts though the building, creating opportunities for unique design elements in the interior and three generous green spaces atop the box, where it juts out on opposite sides of the tower. All the changes were designed to ensure that Telus would get a building that performed the way they wanted and could permit the kind of corporate culture they wanted. The company also wanted a LEED silver building, but the architects one upped them and delivered what is soon expected to certified LEED gold.

Inside, Sweeney incorporated an 18-inch raised floor that houses all the ductwork, wiring and cabling, making it possible for workstations to be easily reconfigured and for employees to control the temperature in individual spaces, via vents on the floor. The architect’s other contributions to the interior, included designing the building’s shared grand lobby, and, on the mezzanine level above it, the soon-to-be-completed Innovation and Hosting Centres. He also advised on Telus’s third-floor reception space, which was largely shaped by the long window that runs behind the reception desk, a nifty little feature he had included in his charcoal box.

The box provided Kasian with a cue for the first part of the interior that you will see when you enter the company’s tower spaces. The entire core, i.e. the elevator lobbies, feature the same charcoal black, a perfect contrast to spaces beyond and their neutral palette. The employee floors’ subtle, pale scheme is punctuated with pops of colour, largely provided with skilfully implemented branding elements and also by splashes of sunny orange on shelves, wall and the Steelcase furniture. The muted tones also emphasise the brightness of the spaces, which are wrapped in floor-to-ceiling starfire glass windows, along which the corridors run, offering natural light to all employees. Common spaces, like the “caf” (a.k.a. lunchroom), as well as the little “snack areas” on each floor, are also positioned to allow employees to take advantage of the light and views.

Kasian partner Crystal Graham (IDA)says though the team involved was big (oh, did I mention that while all this was going on that Burdifilek was also inserting a small retail space on the main floor?) the process was surprisingly smooth. “Telus was really good with managing such a big team. It was great to be able to collaborate with the architects and the result was a really integrated design. The whole building is so cohesive….You can design a lovely space and that’s great, but when you can design something that really works for people, for the client, the customer and the company, that’s really something.” CI