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QuadReal Office A Hybrid Of Past And Future

Toronto Office

For the global real estate company QuadReal, figuring out what the corporate office should look like was tricky. As a new firm, there was no brand or track record to guide or inspire the design.

Reception at QuadReal's new office at the Commerce Court on Bay Street

“I remember at the beginning when we recognized that this was a bit of unique opportunity,” said Eric Yorath, principal at the design firm figure3, which worked on the QuadReal project. 

“It was before even its brand was kind of formulated. So, for a design project, it was a very blank canvas. But the [QuadReal] executives had a real handle on what the cultural aspects would be.”

On the 49th floor (and eventually to expand to part of the 48th) of the west tower of Commerce Court, QuadReal’s new 45K SF Toronto office will accommodate a staff of up to 180 when the move is completed in 2018. The office features connectivity, LEED- and BOMA-certified sustainability, as well as hallway meeting tables and glass walls that embrace an open office

“Openness and transparency was something we talked about early on in our design philosophy,” QuadReal Executive Vice President Eastern Canada Stuart Wanlin said. “We wanted it to be crisp, clear and professional. We definitely didn’t want it to be opulent. This isn’t marble on the floors." 

A breakroom, with full connectivity, in QuadReal's new Toronto office

In many ways, QuadReal’s design concept is a metaphor for the company’s operation. QuadReal — with properties that include Bayview Village in Toronto, the World Exchange Plaza in Ottawa and Calgary’s Fifteen 15 — was formed in 2016 to solely manage the $18B real estate assets of owner bcIMC, the fourth-largest fund manager in Canada. 

“For the last 25 years, [bcIMC] used third parties to manage their real estate. So the culture was much more closed. Even within the shops, there were walls all over the place and the sharing of information was a lot less,” Wanlin said.

“We have one client. So we can be more open. People can walk around or sit at an open meeting table and talk about business and not worry about getting in trouble.”

The open concept approach to office space is a trend that many companies have embraced in recent years. Gone are the cubicles, assigned desks and head-down, workflow approach, replaced by a philosophy that is aimed at encouraging creativity through collaboration.  

Recently the open concept has come under some criticism as being a little off-the-mark. The newest generation — dubbed Generation Z — values security highly and prefers independence, possibly leading to a return to the closed-off office space of the past.

“The full open concept is up for debate,” Ivanhoé Cambridge Senior Director of Office Leasing Charlie Musgrave said at a recent talk on tech in the workplace at Cushman & Wakefield’s Toronto headquarters. “Whenever anyone wants to have a serious conversation, they go somewhere private. I think the answer might be in a hybrid scenario.”

Wanlin said the QuadReal office design embraces both the old office approach and the new. 

“We’re a hybrid here, yes,” he said. “Everyone has a desk. But we’re more open than closed. We really tried to push people who would normally have an office out in order to create that more open, common environment. “

Not that QuadReal has done away with private offices altogether. They exist, as do smaller, centrally located meeting rooms that can be used for a variety of professional and even personal activities. But there are no large corner offices. The 360-degree view of the Toronto downtown is uninterrupted. 

“When we designed it, we did not want to block the view,” figure3 Corporate Workplace Vice President Michelle Berry said. “We wanted to make it part of the experience because the view of the city is the backdrop of what QuadReal is managing and doing.”

QuadReal Executive Vice President Eastern Canada Stuart Wanlin, figure3 Vice President Corporate Workspace Michelle Berry and figure3 principal Eric Yorath at QuadReal's new downtown Toronto office

The QuadReal office is also quite democratic space-wise.

“We created basically two standards — one office, one workstation,” Wanlin said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a HR manager. If you have an office, you have the same one; the same size.”

Still, if size doesn’t matter, location does. By having everything transparent, centrally located and highly visible, QuadReal hopes to inspire collaboration.

“It’s one thing to put in a workplace four or five things to work collaboratively,” Yorath said. “As important is when someone is sitting in their workstation and they can see the collaborative opportunity is available to them. You don’t want all those different collaborative spaces or opportunities locked away down the hallway.”