Sailing Through Work

HDR’s new Kingston, Ontario office pays tribute to the firm’s brand and the area’s unique history through a refined storytelling approach.

When designing its own office in downtown Kingston, Ontario, global architecture and design firm HDR gave itself one very specific task: representing its geographic location.

Situated on the top floor of the Smith Robinson Building, originally built in 1841, the new office does that and more by incorporating a number of impactful design features into only 4,000 square feet. From the vessel-like conference room and collaboration-friendly workspaces to its subtle nautical theme, HDR’s Kingston office is an inspiring case study of a modern work environment that nods to both local and historic roots.

Preserving some of the space’s original elements helped keep the building’s history alive. Previously a discount department store that sat unused for more than 50 years, most of its original five-quarter hardwood floors are intact, and their variegated appearance adds character and depth to the space. “No one worries about spilling graphite or shavings on the floor here,” says Vice President and Design Principal Jason-Emery Groen.

Because of the top floor’s mansard roof, two of the walls in the office are sloped—typically a design challenge, but not in this case. HDR chose to expose the brick walls, limestone and maple post-and-beam interior, leaving a continuous 1.5-foot-deep window seat along the wall. With the workspaces pushed away from the perimeter, everyone gets the same amount of sunlight and a spot to sit and chat while at a coworker’s desk.

Here, it’s all about impromptu meeting spaces and accessible team members. Workstations are grouped in “C” or “E” formations, the latter of which include a center table on casters for going over markups together. They can also be pushed back-to-back into an “I” shape for collaborating with more people.

“The more difficult it is to reconfigure to collaborate, the less likely it’ll happen,” says Groen. “We don’t have any high partitions between workstations—we have a visual connection so we can see the people we’re working with at all times across the office. I can call anyone’s name, and we can have a conversation. I’m constantly liaising with the staff.”

The almost square layout is broken up into three different spaces: the entrance and reception area, the staff and production area, and the conference room. The whole idea, he notes, is that the conference room is the backdrop to the other two spaces. A nearby kitchenette and curved bar counter provide space for taking breaks, flipping through magazines and sharing ideas.


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