Oxford Properties held the first-ever Workplace Innovation Challenge offering four leading design firms and contractors the chance to create the perfect version of a beautiful yet effective workspace. The goal for Oxford was to invite new ideas to push the thinking of traditional workspaces as well as create actual units to attract tenants seeking turnkey alternatives to traditional options.
The four spaces, now dubbed ‘Districts on 10’ range from 3,900-5,100 square feet and all occupy the 10th floor of the iconic 200 Bay Street tower.
The competition culminated in an awards gala that saw Connect, The Jesslin Group, and BVN take home the top prize in the form of a design contract for a 25,000 square foot space from Oxford Properties. The other teams were comprised of Gensler + DPI, Ray + The Pentacon Group, and IBI + Marant.
An eight-person judging panel, which included Digital Magazine, toured the four completed ‘Districts’ and were scored on aesthetics, efficiency, flexibility, sustainability, wellness, and execution. Outside of the initial brief and the $125/square foot budget, Oxford Properties remained hands-off throughout the design/build process, allowing each team free reign to execute as they please.
The one bonus for each team, and subsequent tenants, is the single common kitchen and seating area dubbed Canteen 10 which itself was designed by Britacan. Inspired in part by European shared workspaces and the popularity of co-working spaces, the new office configuration represents Oxford Properties’ vision for the future of work.
“We knew we needed to experiment with the design process, because if we didn’t, we would just be doing the same old things,” says John Peets, VP of office leasing at Oxford Properties. “By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be of the millennial age. Yesterday’s way of working isn’t going to engage and excite and make people more productive, so we tapped into those organizational needs of customers to figure out how to make work exciting again.”
Even though only one office could win, each space demonstrated unique qualities that championed environmentalism, efficiency, collaboration, and concentrative productivity. The competition resulted in four finished products indicative of a new reality in work: a rise in turnkey offices that share common areas and offer a balance between communication and contemplation. These four spaces are geared towards companies in their scale-up hyper-growth period. Potential clients can lease a beautiful office in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, then move up or expand when they are ready.
District 1 focused on one trait above all: flexibility. The meeting rooms are moveable and constructed in a highly-adaptable fashion, including the sliding wall which can separate the office into sections if desired. There is an abundance of workspace for any potential company to take advantage of, as well as a handful of smaller private rooms and phone call booths along the edge of the space.
The design also focused on sustainability, both in materials and utilization of space. Although windows are zigzagging across the space (as they do in the entire building), the team took advantage of the challenging pattern with modular stacking blocks to create ad hoc seating.
“One of our motivations was to push the narrative on construction and build a space with absolutely no drywall, where everything is completely flexible,” says Kimberely Green, a designer at Connect. “Great workplaces allow the employee to work in many different ways. Everything in this room can move and change as the company or employees change themselves.”
District 2 was designed with a focus on creating a perfect mix of collaboration and productivity. The centerpiece of the office is a barista bar, where employees can sit with their laptops to get work down, sip on a coffee, or socialize after work. An area off to the side is separated by rotating whiteboards and offers a place for training sessions or heads-down work.
Off to the side are private meeting rooms and space to take a phone call, in addition to a generously-sized wellness room. One of the striking features of the office is the paint treatment, a mixture of earth tones and sky blue along the ceiling that ties together the combination of a work/social balance.
“Our space is built and derived from research,” says Catherine Cho, a designer at Gensler. “We do a lot of studying into workplace environments, so it’s about providing a choice-based strategy environment for the users to have a great workplace experience. It’s all about being open and creating an innovative space for the innovative clients that are looking for an office now.”
District 3 focuses on connecting with nature and providing a very grounded experience for employees. The entry to the office is open and breezy, with a wall design that mimics the flow of water and air. The entire space is meant to resemble a community hub, with long sightlines and places to gather spread across the entire floor.
A decompression room in the back features plants, aromatherapy, music, and more, all with a distinct focus on enhancing the employee experience. Circadian lighting throughout the office mimics the sun cycle, further enhancing productivity for employees.
“We really wanted to focus on the physical, the cognitive, and the emotional aspects of the space, so that the design is all-encompassing of those elements,” says Tulin Artan, associate and design director at Ray. “To achieve that, I wanted it to have a light airy feel with natural materials, and then provide employees with decompression tools to match that.”
District 4 was created with a persona in mind: a successful fashion designer expanding her business with a Bay Street office. The goal was to “Take [the trendy] Queen Street neighborhood and put it into our space,” according to the designers, and the aesthetic shines through.
In the middle of the space sits a striking a meeting room and hybrid work/relaxation area. The black monolith acts as the focal point of the entire office. There are several desks and chairs spread across the rest of the floor, along with quiet places to take a call or get work done.
There is a lot of storage and shelving across one wall, and on the opposite side, slightly hidden by the central meeting spaces, there is a mechanical room…except this mechanical room has been completely reinvented and turned into a beautiful lounging area with flower prints on the wall. The idea, as stated by IBI, was to offer employees Instagrammable moments throughout the office, so any potential tenants would feel proud and excited to work there.
After a strong reaction from community partners, Districts on 10 is officially available for tenancy.