Inside The Modern Design Office

From building a corporate culture to integrating technology in intuitive ways, here’s how three leading design firms are redefining the modern office.

Of course, sometimes all it takes to get your point across is a great view and some humanist design. The new office of Quadrangle Architects, built on the seventh floor of a former data center in Toronto's King West neighborhood, features sweeping views of the skyline, abundant levels of natural light, and a sustainable, friendly aesthetic. The space also exceeds accessibility requirements, and is filled with custom millwork and generous circulation corridors, meeting rooms, and furnishings to accommodate mobility devices. "The design of the studio allowed us to demonstrate that inclusive design can be comfortable, purposeful, and beautiful," says Caroline Robbie, principal architect with Quadrangle.
a participation expectation.

Encouraging collaboration in the workplace is nothing new, but actually getting it to happen is another matter entirely. While many companies have added informal meeting areas to their offices, leading design firms are finding that it sometimes takes a combination of spatial and cultural changes to jumpstart the collaborative process.

For example, Robbie notes that Quadrangle has always favored a collaborative way of working, but the firm's new studio space has been designed to make that the norm. Individual workstations have been sacrificed to accommodate a variety of new collaborative areas, including the Annex, a flexible communal and lunch space framed with whiteboards, tackboards, and book shelving; and the Incubator, a semi-open meeting area covered in writable, magnetic surfaces and filled with easily reconfigurable furnishings. "The best aspect of [the Incubator] is its visibility from the moment you step off the elevator into Quadrangle's space," Robbie says. "It says everything you need to know about the value we place on design."

The firm has also taken the unique step of instituting a "no food at desks" policy in the office, in an effort to overcome the tendency for design professionals to work continuously throughout the day, as well as to encourage an improved social atmosphere. Designers now spend their lunch breaks in the Annex mingling with others and sharing ideas, making everyone an active participant in the firm's work.

Ziegler Cooper followed a similar script in the design of its Houston office, adding collaboration areas into the main studio space in an effort to break the isolating effect computer screens can have on employees. The new spaces include the Innovation Lounge, a space filled with colorful lounge chairs and a gull-winged canopy, and the Critic's Corner, which features unusual serpentine furniture to get the creative juices flowing. Both spots act as a space to pin-up work and discuss design face-to-face.

"The real purpose is to go back to our college days and have a critique of our work," Ziegler says. "We'll have a pin-up once a week, where we'll select one of the projects from the firm, put it up there, and engage the designers in the office. We'll stand in there and let the younger designers do the presentation for two reasons. One, it gives them a voice, and two, the senior designers and principals will critique the work, making it a learning experience."

Representatives from all three firms mentioned the addition of informal meeting or café spaces as one of the biggest culture-changers that companies should consider when it comes to redesigning the office. Ziegler in particular identifies the vendor presentations that occur each week during lunch and after-hours as opportunities to encourage continuing education and team connections. "When I bring my clients through who are looking to design a new office space, I bring them to the café and say, 'If there's one thing that will transform your organization, it will be a nice break room café.'"

"It has changed our culture," he adds. "I've had conversations with staff in the first few months just by sitting down to share lunch with them that I hadn't had in 10 years in my old office."


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