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One of the most impressive features of HOK’s newest office is what you don’t see. Although the international architecture firm’s Toronto outpost has been up and running for half a year, the space is almost entirely free from clutter. It’s the product of HOK’s extensive experience making corporate workspaces (it’s the second-largest interior design firm on the continent), coupled with the company’s familiarity with its own processes and needs. The result is a space of remarkable efficiency. Its effectiveness was not lost on ARIDO; last week the organization bestowed an Award of Merit on the project.

When HOK assumed control of the space, which fills the 22nd floor of a 1971 tower in the heart of Toronto, it was a bare interior, allowing the firm to design their new home on a blank slate. While there are some industrial touches (the exposed ceiling, the wide steel-framed glass doors, and the spare black-and-white motif that dominates the interior, for example), the space is warmed by the use of Armstrong Luxury Vinyl Tile flooring throughout, which softens footfalls and convincingly recreates the impression of walking on wide-plank hardwood. In addition to the fabric or leather of upholstered lounge seating, a few carefully selected furnishings reinforce this feeling of warmth: wooden sideboards and tables, a vintage pantry, and a cluster of snowshoe-esque chairs in the lobby.

These hospitable touches are layered over no-nonsense desking from Inscape. The interior houses only two private offices, for the director of finance and the senior human resources manager; all other employees work at banks of desks. But despite these relatively close quarters, a strict clean-desk policy means the workspaces never feel crowded. Every employee gets desk-side filing in a low unit that also provides secondary seating, and a drawer on the side of the room for personal use.

While HOK keeps paper waste to a minimum, as an architecture firm a certain amount of use is inevitable. Project files are stored not in individual desks, but in shared filing stations tucked into a corner of the room. These are tailored to each project teams’ needs, be they fabric swatches or oversized blueprints.

This streamlined approach to desking has allowed the firm to reduce the size of their office from 1,860 square metres to 1,485, even while gaining about a dozen employees. The seeming paradox is explained by a simple re-prioritization of collaboration spaces: before the move, desks took up the lion’s share of space, while in the new office desks are minimized and breakout spaces are brought to the forefront. An unusual floorplan left HOK with many oblique corners perfect for creating zones for reclining with a laptop, taking a break, or holding a private tête-à-tête (in one of the meeting and teleconferencing rooms) without disturbing the neighbours – all offering exquisite views of the city.

Emphasizing collaboration space seems to more than make up the difference in reduced workstation size, so that there’s now one communal seat for every assigned one. Some employees, including 30 members of leadership, are entirely nomadic – hot-desking or working outside the office – but HOK found that for the majority of employees, it made sense to return to the same desk each day. With both groups in mind, all breakout spaces are wired using the same technology, so picking up and moving from one work site to another is as seamless as possible, enabling mobile working and facilitating impromptu meetings away from the rows of desks.

Cloakrooms, copy rooms and other functional spaces were placed at the core of the building, circling the elevators. But the social centre of gravity, grounding one end of the office, is the kitchen – a brightly lit space with white subway tile, custom cabinets in a warm blue, and rustic wooden tables under the Bouroullecs’ Liane pendants for Flos. One wall is lined with shelves of storage bins, which hide a second row of shelves holding the office library.

While a move of this magnitude can cost a company days’ worth of productivity, HOK’s transition this past February was remarkably smooth. After years of consulting their own clients on “change management,” the firm has seen first-hand the importance of addressing needs and concerns to ensure that employees at all levels are on board and have access to the information they need.

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