Turning a dark, disjointed and confusing office space into a bright and welcoming experience for clients gave the architects and designers at Cooper Gardner a decisive win in the commercial division in this year’s Building Design Awards.
Colonial first approached the firm in late 2010 to discuss the ground-floor renovation of their Reid Street offices. “Early meetings discussed branding and programming—work flows, organisational charts and staff matrices,” says partner-in-charge Julia van Beelen. “These embryonic discussions enabled the project team to get a good sense of what was working, what aspects of the business were an intrinsic part of the culture of Colonial and what would benefit from a fresh look in terms of efficiencies and customer relations.” Design on the 6,000-square-foot space began in May 2011, the project was tendered in December of that year and work began in February 2012. The first phase was completed at the end of May 2012, and the second was finished at the end of September 2012.
“[Colonial] was seeking to create a new retail experience for their clients and wanted to explore a new way of delivering services to their clients, as well as improve internal interactions between different areas of business,” says van Beelen. “Fundamental discussions and questions about how they worked and the dynamics within the company helped to define a space design which fully supported their needs and enhanced opportunities for collaboration within the company.”
Getting to that place was no easy task for Cooper Gardner. The ground floor of Jardine House is split into two halves and bisected by a common entrance lobby, which has proven confusing for clients over the years. “This was given careful consideration in the early days of the design process to ensure that the two halves of the floor plate helped rather than impeded Colonial’s interface with their clients and also engendered a strong sense of internal cohesiveness,” says van Beelen. “To overcome the potential of the business feeling bisected, the two entrances were relocated to the entry court and level access was created to both sides. In addition, an internal connection, between the two halves of the floor plate, was reinforced across the elevator lobby.”
This connection also serves to increase the accessibility of the office space, a primary concern for the designers considering the wide cross section of customers served by a company like Colonial. Access to the existing spaces was originally fraught with difficulties, including level changes, poor lighting and confusing entrance areas. “Both entrances now provide level access into the building, and we integrated the level change into the main space into the design of the east side via a ramp configured as part of the reception/waiting area,” says van Beelen. “Although we could not structurally eliminate the steps going up within the west side, we augmented the internal connection between the two sides of the floor plate, creating another level access via the business centre off the elevator lobby.” Cooper Gardner was recently awarded a Built Environmental Accessibility Award for this project.
Another challenge the firm faced was a deep and narrow floor plate that left the rear spaces dark and confused. To solve this problem, the architects divided the space into zones, including reception, waiting area, customer-service area and back of house. A graceful flowing path from the entrance to the customer-service area—a design element mirrored on the ceiling—adds visual interest as well as a subtle connection between the spaces.
“Addressing the change in level offered an opportunity to transform a feature which is sometimes seen as purely functional into a design element which elegantly and discreetly transitions the customer from the curved reception area down into the heart of the space,” says van Beelen. “Simultaneously, the curved nature of the ramp envelopes the waiting area nestled within it, conferring on it a comfortable, cosy feeling—something important to the client. The curved ceiling reinforces this sense of an enveloping space.
“The new design has radically changed the how customers are received into the building and also the interface between Colonial and its customers,” adds van Beelen. “Customers enter unimpeded into a generous main reception space which is light and airy. Once directed, they no longer stand in a teller line to be served, but rather are attended seated at a desk. The more open layout encourages staff to interact and exchange ideas, and central filing and printing takes advantage of work efficiencies and reduced duplication and waste.
“While there are a lot of highlights, I would say the circular entrance element is definitely my favourite, because I feel it works on various levels. It not only looks good and works well, but it also functions as a focal point and an organizing element in the design and draws customers into the heart of the space. In addition, it fulfills the principles of universal design in that accessibility is embodied within the design.”
Addressing the poor lighting in the space was a key component of the overall design. As a result, the firm took every opportunity to bring natural light into the space by removing the dark tint on the Reid Street facing windows and replacing it with newer, clearer glass technologies and introducing windows and skylights at the rear of the building. Internally, they increased ceiling heights as much as possible and used light colours throughout to help bounce light off the walls. Glass has been used to separate spaces, offices and meeting rooms to allow light to penetrate.
The light colour palette also welcomes clients and employees with a sense of openness, while punches of strong greens, yellows and blues add interest to the design. “From the client’s perspective, they wanted a design which was friendly and eye-catching and conveyed a sense of dynamic workforce, without being too corporate,” says van Beelen. “The interest in a light-filled space led us to a light base colour palette in neutral tones, which also helps to give the design longevity. This is interspersed with strong colour accents to add depth, interest and focal points to the design.”
Although not visible to the public, a new large kitchen/meeting area/locker room at the rear of the western side is a significant transformation of what was previously a space with an unwelcoming vibe, says the firm. “The client’s brief was to provide a generous space to accommodate large internal social and information gatherings from various departments on other floors in the building and to bring the company together. We were able to see it in action for a festive occasion at Christmas, and it was a real pleasure to feel the buzz of the
space alive with people.”
While the project originally involved reusing and salvaging elements from the previous design, the only thing the architects were able to save was the air-conditioning ducts. The remaining space had to be stripped back to the base building. However, Cooper Gardner prides themselves on introducing sustainability into their projects as much as possible and thus chose to incorporate sustainable products such as Forest Stewardship Council certified woods, reconstituted stone countertops, low VOC paints and carpeting, LED down lighting and task lighting, materials and furniture using recycled content and Energy Star appliances throughout the project.
The judges were highly impressed with the project and note that “the architects were able to make a statement that you can have a contemporary office without it being cold and stark—and ‘not Bermuda.’”
“We have followed up with the users and asked about customer reactions and are pleased to have been given extremely positive feedback about using and visiting the space,” says van Beelen. “We are delighted to have been given this award as a crowning accolade to what has been an extremely rewarding project on many levels.”
CONTRACTORS & SUPPLIERS
General Contractor/Project Manager/Site Superintendent–Somers Construction Ltd.; Mechanical Contractor–BAC; Electrical Contractor–First Class Electrics; Plumbing Contractor–BAC; Engineer–Brunel Engineering; HVAC–BAC; Landscape Design–Aberfeldy Nursery; Flooring–COE, Stafford Flooring; Millwork–Convoy Custom Interiors Inc., Recon; Audio Visual–First Class Electrics; Cabling–Decisions Ltd.; Alarm, security–BDA Security Group;Alarm, fire–Selectron; Workstations–COE; Signage–Signworx; Windows/Doors–Island Glass; Lighting–Hammerschlag + Joffe; Glass–COE, Island Glass; Furniture–COE, Windward Supplies, Diversified.