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Spotlight: Workspace
Genre-busting office projects to the latest in sit/stand desks, and much more, Azure charts out the workplace of the future.
figure3 Designs a Toronto Office as Flexible as its Tenant
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4 Adjustable-Height Desks that “Stand Up” to Sedentary Work
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An Oregon Office by JHL Design Combines Industrial Drama and Home Comforts
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4 New Conference Tables Bring Flair to the Meeting Room
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Keep it Down: 4 Solutions for Respite from the Open Office
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Wilkhahn’s Dynamic (and Stylish) Office Chairs Move With the Spine
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Spotlight: Workspace

When it began looking for a new showroom just over two years ago, Canadian contract furniture manufacturer Inscape had a good sense of what it wanted: an agile and adaptable space that could serve not only as a showroom for its furniture and systems and as an office for its employees, but also as an education space and events venue. In short, Inscape wanted a place that reflected the current working culture and its own ability to change with the times. In business since 1888, the brand – which still manufactures out of a factory just an hour north of Toronto – has seen first-hand how technology and changing social attitudes have transformed the office landscape. Plus, Inscape was aiming to better showcase its products in a site that was closer to its clientele. 

Armed with this specific wish list, Inscape turned to local design firm Figure3 to bring it to fruition. Having already formed an amenable working relationship when the studio designed Inscape’s Chicago showroom in 2016, the two organizations began looking at a number of downtown Toronto locations before deciding on one on the 13th floor of a 15-storey building in the Financial District for its potential “to accommodate the right amount of flexible work and showroom space near their downtown clients,” says Figure3 principal Suzanne Bettencourt.

At one corner of the central volume, a glass box covered in a dichroic glass film by 3M provides employees with a room to make private phone calls or take a meditative break.

The design team first removed an access corridor and two separate entries from the original layout to create one open and seamless space. Bettencourt et al then took a residential approach to the 518-square-metre office, sectioning off areas with names like the living room, the kitchen and the veranda. “The residential layout is a behavioural thing,” Bettencourt says. “It’s a social environment that highlights the behaviours that companies are trying to encourage and shows various ways to use the space.”  

Ombré carpet tiles and warm wood accents (all the interior’s millwork is drawn from Inscape’s storage and casegoods systems) add softness to the raw space.

Entering from the elevator, visitors first encounter a “decompression zone” with a drop ceiling clad in Zintra acoustic felt, which immediately creates a sense of calm. From here, the office opens up to its main area, where the 3.65-metre-tall ceiling was left exposed but painted white and polished concrete floors inject a raw industrial vibe. Already benefiting from wraparound windows, the space was further softened by the introduction of subtle but effective biophilic elements such as warm wood accents and Interface carpet tiles with nature-inspired patterning to demarcate work zones.

The floor plan is organic, not linear, allowing for the easy rearrangement of stations depending on who is using the space and how. Circulating around a central volume that contains a library (where staff and clients can work together) and a meeting room, the office moves from kitchen to living room to veranda, with each zone outfitted with the brand’s furniture and storage systems to perform a specific function: casual meet-up space, collaboration and exploration area, presentation or entertaining spot. “The space is like a gallery for the product,” says Mardi Najafi, director of retail design at Figure3. But it’s one that is hard-working, flexible and ever-changing. 

C9 Desk by Watson

Decidedly Scandinavian in design, the C9 desk conceals a four-motor spindle lifting mechanism within its minimalist steel frame. Six styles of undermount storage cubes are on offer, along with privacy screens that can frame some or all of the work surface. Part of the larger C9 collection, the individual desks can be linked together via a powered rail system to create non-linear work stations equipped with lighting, planter boxes and team tables. 

Sit-Stand Workbench by Benchmark

Part of the Sage collection by David Rockwell, the Sit-Stand Workbench takes inspiration from drafting tables. Divided by cork and felt privacy panels that double as pinboards, its dual work surfaces are lifted and lowered via a button. Made from sustainably sourced sycamore, oak or walnut, the workstation can be wired with an integrated power supply while an embedded light in the overhead arch provides illumination.

EFloat by Humanscale

Comprising two base styles, Lite (shown) and Flex, eFloat is able to support multiple desk-top sizes and shapes (and up to 100 kilograms). The customizable series offers four touchpad options (two with programmable memory settings) and nine finishes for the recyclable steel and aluminum structure. 

Sky by Versteel 

Not limited to transitioning from a seated work surface to a standing one, Sky’s paddle-operated pneumatic assist also transforms it into a whiteboard, a privacy screen or a lectern. Five base styles accommodate various tabletop formats.

Sophisticated, intimate and more than a little homey isn’t typically how tech-industry offices are described, but that’s exactly what JHL Design, of Portland, Oregon, achieved when it converted the penthouse of a 1927 building into a functioning workspace.

Having served myriad uses in its lifetime, the 371-square-metre space is defined by its pitched concrete walls (it’s situated under a mansard roofline) and exposed columns. When those walls – which had been painted multiple times and covered by drywall over the years – were stripped down to their rawest state, the residual staining and pockmarking offered a dramatic finish that Holly Freres, JHL’s principal, opted to work with rather than eliminate.

The original concrete walls were left in their time-worn state throughout. Here, a custom conference table by Quartertwenty is surrounded by classic Eames chairs in a meeting room.

Having lived in Japan for many years, the client had an affinity for that country’s architecture, which JHL nodded to by framing a central communal area with a cedar and glass wall system. “The wood form follows cues from shōji screens, but modernized,” says JHL creative director Liz Morgan. The offices and meeting rooms surround this space on the other side of the walls. 

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1A cluster of Cloud Softlights by Vancouver’s Molo fills the vault-like space, effectively softening the exposed concrete and ductwork.

2Wall systems made from Alaska yellow cedar and glass flank the office’s central zone, providing privacy while still allowing light to pass through. The shōji-inspired structures feature custom pulls one metre in length.

3A grouping of residential-style furnishings – including a leather sofa from CB2, Neri&Hu’s Capo lounge chairs and Yucca Stuff’s limestone and walnut coffee table (the latter two are from The Future Perfect) – greets visitors to the office.

To outfit the communal area, the team layered in furnishings and materials with an overtly domestic vibe, reflecting the growing trend toward “resimercial” workspaces.

The existing columns naturally divided the room into three zones, which the designers reinterpreted as a library sandwiched between two lounges. All of them were kitted out with soft, sculptural lighting; furniture was upholstered in leather and wool. The feeling, overall, is more cozy corner than corner office.

MoreThanFive by Coalesse 

Michael Young devised this work table as a weighty counterpart to his LessThanFive carbon fibre chair. The slender cast iron base is topped by translucent glass, which shows off its materiality. Tabletop formats include rectangular, round and square, and the base can be clear coated or painted. 

Column by Union Wood Co.

Handmade in Vancouver, Column can be specified with a round or oval top – the curved edges make it comfortable no matter where one is seated. The base pillars are offered in four metallic (or custom) shades, and the surface in various woods with multiple finishes. 

Structure by Allsteel

A mix-and-match portfolio, Structure offers different base styles, surface materials and finishes in a range of sizes and heights (including the large meeting version shown). Each table has five standard heights, and surfaces can be integrated with power access and media mounts. 

Beluga by Pair

Part of the debut line from California-based office furniture brand Pair, the Beluga table has an unimposing profile. Its base is made from powder-coated steel, while the surface can be etched glass (shown), veneer or laminate. It can also be fitted with power and technology storage. 

Avion by Stylecraft

This system of walls, tables and seating can be configured to build a variety of scenarios for solo or group work. Sofa options include one-, two- and three-seaters, while upholstered walls in differing heights suit a range of privacy needs. Power sources and USB charging can be integrated. 

Outline Highback Panel by Muuto

A new complement to Anderssen & Voll’s Outline sofas, the Highback Panel transforms the seating into an acoustic and spatial shelter for a focused spot to work. The upholstered divider is easily affixed to the sofa’s walls with powder-coated metal brackets and screws. 

Banqs by Teknion

Responding to the needs of multi-purpose settings such as co-working environments, PearsonLloyd developed this series that includes sofas, privacy screens, tables and power/USB charging accessories. Its modules can be arranged in linear, back-to-back, U-shaped or L-shaped layouts.

Exchange Phase 3 by Allseating

Do Not Disturb: 5 Privacy Pods For Focused Moments in Open-Plan Offices
Whether for a group needing a place to hash out ideas or an individual looking for a quiet moment, these privacy-minded pods offer respite in noisy workspaces.
open office

With this third expansion of Exchange, the soft-seating system comprising seven recycled injection-moulded plastic components and a series of support rails now enables over 180,000 possible variations, including larger collaborative pods. Add-ons include power sources, work surfaces and other tools. 

Today’s office is more dynamic than ever – yet sitting is still the default for most people most of the time. And while a corresponding push for more residential-style furnishings is elevating the modern office’s appearance, it often comes at the cost of ergonomics. Musculoskeletal ailments are still the number one cause of absenteeism, according to a 2018 report by German healthcare insurer DAK, and “75 per cent of all employees have a backache at least once a year.”

As we learn more about the effects of long-term sitting, it has become clear that “correct” posture is a fallacy. No position is healthy when held for several hours a day. Movement while sitting, including easy-to-use sit–stand options, is one way to break up long periods of sitting. And as Wilkhahn is proving, this new understanding doesn’t have to be at odds with good-looking office furniture.

To reconcile the goals of better ergonomics and aesthetic appeal, Wilkhahn has introduced the AT 187 range of task chairs, a family comprising five models of different back heights, including a counter stool and a highly adjustable chair for sit–stand applications. 

At the heart of each chair is Wilkhahn’s patented Trimension – a kinematics system, developed with researchers from Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln, that enables three-dimensional movement of the seat pan and back, mobilizing the hips and activating back muscles.

The same self-balancing system that supports a sitter as they shift around – while still maintaining their centre of gravity – allows the chair to automatically adapt to the weight of different sitters, making it ideal for boardrooms and hot desking. For chairs assigned to a dedicated user, Trimension can be finely tuned to one of 10 different calibrations.

AT’s instant adaptability means sitters can lean, reach and pivot, shifting positions and reducing the strain of sitting for long periods – which in turn lowers muscle stiffness, backache and joint pain and improves well-being and concentration. Three case studies have borne this out, including a 12-week study in which a group using chairs in Wilkhahn’s free-2-move family reported better concentration and demonstrated higher speed and accuracy than a control group.

The same automatic adjustment that makes AT easy to use also reduces the need for visible control mechanisms, resulting in a cleaner, more refined look. Crossover points have been meticulously modelled to give the final product a seamless appearance.

AT 187 can also be specified with different backrest, frame and upholstery options – including a wide selection of fabrics and colours, even leather – to blend into any environment. The range also marries with Wilkhahn’s other table and conference chair models for a unified look throughout the office.

This content was published by Azure on behalf of Wilkhahn.