Offices designers thinking outside the "black box"

Office building design is going through a creative transformation in Vancouver with traditional concepts tossed out the window as developers move towards developing structures that will attract a new breed of office worker.
The design concept is hitting both the exterior and interior of office design where workers seek more freedom and amenities in the workplace.
The trend in office tower design is away from the traditional “black-box” tower so common in the past decades and towards more creative building structures such as Telus Garden, said Chuck We, director of leasing for Oxford Properties Group.
New creative flare reaches inside buildings
That same creative flare is reaching inside the buildings, breaking from the past design of private cubicles and moving towards more open-area designs that can accommodate a range of functions.
Buildex 2013 interior design panel members outlined some of the changes impacting the workplace in 2020, with We serving as moderator. At the forefront of the fluid office design is the technology revolution that has occurred with an individual no longer tethered to a specific work area or station.
The more mobile employee has changed the shape of the office layout. At one time, developers realized that views commanded higher revenues so they designed to maximize those view areas. But, the new design trend is to maximize the user space within these areas rather than have private offices. The concept allows more employees to enjoy the window view and more practical use of daylight to accomplish work. “People do come first,” said We.
New trends bring challenges. Aliki Gladwin, principal of Aliki Gladwin & Design Associates said that with increasing globalization there are more multi-nationals being served in the marketplace and that impacts design. When there is a “feeling or look” that is too controlled or contrived, it becomes hard for designers to let creative juices flow and deliver futuristic designs that best suit the workplace, she said. Also “there are deals or agreements by procurement groups regarding what products are used,” she said.
Health Unit consolidates 11 locations onto two floors in a new office
Susan Steeves, principal of SSDG Interiors Inc., told of relocating the Fraser Health Authority’s 937 staff members who were housed at 11 different locations into two large floor plates in a new office. The move entailed a tight deadline of eight months, a complex planning process, but also change that looked at office structure and needs of people.
Steeves said that the health authority’s chief executive wanted the move to be a “transformative experience” which impacted the way individuals worked and would create a workplace culture. Executives would not be housed in offices, but offices would be allocated according to the need for privacy or confidentiality. Again, there was a move away from the “call centre” type of design throughout the floor plate, especially as Steeves pointed out that studies show “work stations are vacant 55 per cent of the time.”

Collaboration will be key in the office of the future which will provide more amenity spaces for networking plus more common collaborative work spaces where employees share work space or can work as a group at tables as shown in the Haworth furniture display at Buildex Vancouver recently. Jean Sorensen Photo
Teresa Miller, senior workplace designer for Perkins + Will Canada said there is a growing consciousness amongst younger workers that they also want a healthy work environment. Building views provide employees with a sense of being connected to the outside world, and also the daylight has been found to impact employee performance as opposed to being housed in a cubicle. Studies have shown that productivity increases with the exposure to daylight, Miller said.
Interior designs are encouraging the integration of stairways between floors as they serve as a means of providing connection between the company employees on two floors, especially if senior management is on the floor above. It becomes easy for management to wander down or individuals on the floor below to take an issue upstairs. As well as saving energy and providing exercise, stairways which have seating areas nearby can become collaborative focal points in an office, she pointed out.
Despite the move to make materials used in construction and interior furnishing more environmentally friendly and healthy, designers still face problems as often manufacturers will not release proprietary product information. Miller said her company had put together a set of 12 guiding rules for material selection, including “question materials that tend to make health claims”. One specific rule involved the smell test when choosing materials. “If it stinks, don’t use it,” she said.
Google's making 'fun' workplaces
The generation that will occupy the offices in the next decade will also want their workspaces to be more enjoyable and a place that they look forward to going to. Joe Pettipas, senior vice-president of HOK Vancouver, said his company’s transformation of the Google offices in Toronto is an example of that concept.
“At Google, it is fun that follows first,” said Pettipas, adding the company mantra is to “create enjoyment at the workplace so that you no longer feel you are at work.” That is reflected in the interior design plus two outside decks, where employees can play mini-golf. Leisure areas resemble relaxing recreational rooms, there’s a funky cafeteria with a kitchen that feeds staff, a hidden games room that opens via book case, a blender-bike where employees pedal to make their favourite smoothie, plus tents that serve as private conference areas to name a few of the features.
The 89,000 square foot space, located on Toronto’s Richmond St. and finished in November 2012, is an example of how the workplace expresses the creative element being sought by Google. The creative atmosphere enhances social networking in the job site that in turn enhances collaboration and idea exchanges.
Generally, the panelists agreed – despite some drawbacks such as dealing with noise – that collaborative workplaces and more social contact with other employees are hallmarks of the office to come as the walls are removed.
“We are going from a ‘me’ place to a ‘we’ place,” said moderator We.



Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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