Best shot

Marketing firms are constantly asked to deliver new and innovative thinking about how to make their clients shine brighter than the competition and connect their brands to consumers in meaningful ways. So of course that imperative to think imaginatively is also expected of a design firm when asked to build the agency a new nerve centre. This puts everyone under the gun, which makes the narrative of Cossette V7’s new home all the more symbolic: its employees are now working in a factory once used to manufacture ammunition.

Thankfully, Toronto-based Teeple Architects together with Luc Bouliane, principal at his eponymous firm, Luc Bouliane Architect Inc., didn’t pursue a literal interpretation of the ammunition motif, but the intent was spiritually similar: build a space that encourages and harnesses the explosive power of the creative mind. (Full disclosure: Bouliane worked for Teeple for almost 10 years until he struck out on his own two years ago. With Teeple, he was helping Cossette with expansions and sound studios, so there was a natural pairing when the time came for Cossette to move to bigger and better spaces.) This building, the architects felt, was perfect for that.

Located in the hopping Liberty Village district, a mecca for Toronto’s creative industries, the space used to be one of Corus Entertainment’s many satellite facilities before it consolidated down on the waterfront. What Corus left behind, however, was a box crammed with partitioned offices and a second internal storey that covered the structure’s clerestory windows. This made Cossette originally dubious about the building, thinking it would be hopeless to try and create energy and culture in it. But Teeple and Bouliane saw the inherent potential, and stripped its insides to the bones, exposing the beautiful steel roof structure and brick walls to enhance all its dramatic features. This also solved Cossette’s primary problem in its previous digs on King Street West, of being dispersed over four floors. The new space brings everyone together spatially while still being able to group each division.  

The skeleton of the building is basically two “sheds,” which lent itself well to the arrangement of Cossette, a fully integrated agency, and its sister-company EDC, a group of discipline-specific marketing agencies (both are under the umbrella of Vision7 International, a Canadian-based holding company) that handles direct marketing, social media, digital branding, PR and media creation (under the names Elvis, Dare, Citizen, Jungle, and Rocket). These feisty creative clusters needed a strong design gesture to help unite them, which was done by creating an internal “street” that cuts through the large space and acts as a main public corridor and informal meeting spaces for over 300 employees. The 18-foot-high internal space has little nooks, lounges and meeting spaces along its length and connects two “street addresses” at each end of the building. This shared street also doubles as a kind of a stage or set where material for client pitches can be displayed.

Various departments, offices and workstations flank the street on the ground floor, while a series of “pods” float above the work areas and public thoroughfare to serve as breakout creative spaces and communal gathering spaces for parties or lounging. These individual pods along the street have a playful facade treatment that uses shots of colour to separate and identify them. And by juxtaposing them against the rough industrial bones of the building, these slick pods help both create and house creative energy, similar to a cartridge case that contains the powder charge, primer and projectile of a bullet. (Although I said the design team avoided a literal rendition of the ammunition motif, Cossette couldn’t help itself and gave its meeting rooms names such as Gunpowder, Cannonball, and Projectile.)

Creating opportunities for community, energy and collaboration was a driving mandate for the design team, but another important aspect of having a lot of shared public spaces is to combat the natural exclusivity and segregation that often comes when one company has a lot of small divisions within it. Not only did the team avoid the typical breakup of space with subdivisions, the design harnesses natural light from the upper clerestory windows and fills the building with light, a unifying and democratic element made available to all.

While democratic space was important, there was a need for a collection of private offices on the building’s periphery. To avoid a box feeling, these are accentuated by a series of colourful fins that mimic the shape of the ceiling and structural beams. They also serve a practical purpose by allowing light in but providing a bit of sound baffling.

In these times of rapid change where traditional media models have crumbled, audiences fragment over and over again, and marketers are obsessed with proving the value of their investments, media innovation has become not just desired but essential. Which means the spaces wherein which they give birth to these innovations is equally essential, making those design firms who can deftly handle lively firecracker clients like marketing firms true innovators.  cI