The Volaris HQ by Bartlett & Associates is the kind of workspace that will be trending post-vaccine, as the office becomes more of a collaborative hub where we connect with colleagues.
After months of social distancing, self-isolation, quarantines and lockdowns, Bartlett & Associates is thinking about offices very differently. Though we all will be wary of open workspaces for some time to come, the benefits provided by the daily interactions of working life have never been so evident.
“During the work week, a lot of our social exchanges happen in the office, whether it’s during a coffee break or a meeting,” says Inger Bartlett, founder of Toronto design studio Bartlett & Associates. “Creating opportunities for employees to interact – and finding design solutions to make those exchanges more positive and more productive – is key to creating effective workspace.”
For the HQ of Volaris, a Toronto tech-investment management company, Bartlett & Associates shaped the interior to enhance the way its inhabitants interact with each other, as well as with their surroundings. Located next to the Etobicoke Creek conservation area, the space is wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a lush green forest. To maximize the calming effects of the natural setting, the design team worked to blur the lines between inside and out, bringing the woods right into the office.
“Our previous space overlooked the highway,” says Katie Meredith, Volaris’s head of HR. “We had a view of the airport and non-stop, speeding traffic. It had people amped and not necessarily in a good way. We wanted our new home to be somewhere people could relax, focus, communicate and collaborate – something totally different and unique. But we had no idea what that might look like.”
Rather than contrast the forest view with the rigidity of a traditional workstation plan, the designers swapped standard right angles for 120-degree desks, grouping them in winding formations that appear cellular in their construction. Says Bartlett, “We wanted to enhance the connection to the forest, so we took an organic approach, looking at every detail through that lens.” The non-traditional layout’s inherent movement and flow promotes more interaction – just one of many ways Bartlett & Associates’s interior encourages collaboration.
A series of ten glass-wrapped meeting rooms lines the inside walls, providing ample space to accommodate multiple gatherings, conference calls and virtual meetings, at any given time. While the main boardroom is behind privacy glass, the rest of the walls are completely transparent, offering a sense of openness while keeping the woodlands in view. “When conversations disappear behind closed doors, it can be alienating,” Bartlett says. “These rooms offer acoustic privacy for confidential conversations, and help keep noise to a minimum within the open plan. But maintaining sightlines keeps both the space and the mood light.”
Though the design team exposed the ceiling structure over the workstations to add to the airy feeling, a lower ceiling remains in the meeting rooms. Slightly overhanging the glass perimeter walls like a cantilevered roof, the lower plane adds to the sense of privacy and creates a feeling of indoor rooms looking out at the “outdoor” work area that visually merges with the forest outside.
Another organic element the Bartlett & Associates team wanted to add was interaction – the interior is designed to inspire spontaneous conversations and collaborating on the fly. The floor plan includes a spacious café, centered around a custom harvest table. Accommodating up to a dozen chairs, the live edge Douglas-fir table is meant to bring colleagues together in a room largely dedicated to social experiences. A glass partition divides the room from the workspace acoustically, while translucent fins stripe the wall to create a visual barrier.
In the open office itself, a multitude of breakout zones offer opportunities for casual conversation. These areas are defined by a variety of cozy seating options from Keilhauer, all upholstered in soft wool fabrics in soothing shades of blue, grey and green. Note: In a post-COVID 19 reality, the modular nature of these set-ups will be ideal for accommodating both the social-distancing practices that will be expected for some time, and the interaction we desire.
The smallest breakout zones are part of the project’s pièce de résistance: The Boardwalk. A six-foot-wide pathway that runs the full length of the windowed perimeter walls, the Boardwalk is a welcoming shared space where the effects of the forest are amplified. Defined by a switch in the direction of the wood floor planks, the indoor trail is scattered with pairs of wingback chairs and a series of eight-foot-tall ficus trees. It’s a simple amenity from which anyone in the office can enjoy the natural beauty of the site.
“One can’t help but be drawn to the Boardwalk,” says Meredith. “Our view is great in any season and it’s always changing and active – we see wildlife year-round. Inger really used that to pull people into the shared spaces, where the design invites you to sit down together and talk, exchange ideas. It has led to so much more collaboration. We feel at ease here and it’s made us stronger as a corporate community.”
When was the project completed?
How many SF per person?
How many employees work here?
What is average daily population?
75 (pre-COVID, currently allowing a limited number of employees access to the space each day)
Describe the work space type.
What kind of meeting spaces are provided?
The office includes eight meeting rooms seating four to eight people, plus a main boardroom with a Skyfold partition that can be lowered to split this room into two. Casual meetings are also accommodated in the many breakout zones and in the café.
What other kinds of support or amenity spaces are provided?
A sunny café boasts various seating options and views of the conservation area outside, while a plethora of breakout zones are incorporated in the open plan work space. The smallest of the breakouts are positioned close to the windows, along the sweeping path we imagined as an indoor boardwalk. This space offers ever-changing views of the flora and fauna outside.
What is the projects location and proximity to public transportation and/or other amenities?
The project is accessible via public transportation and there are lunch spots within walking distance. But the best amenity is the conservation area outside. Easily and quickly reachable, the Etobicoke Creek area’s walking trails offer a real departure from the work day, whether out for a stroll over lunch, or even just for a short break to get some fresh air and recharge.
How is the space changing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The actual space has not been altered at all as result of COVID, however, the way Volaris uses the space has changed. The company currently limits the number of employees that are permitted to work in the office each day. Staff members can book a spot online when they need to work in the office collaboratively – or when they just need a break from working from home.
The unique layout of 120-degree workstations does permit six feet of distance (with a couple of exceptions where desks face each other), so everyone in the office on a given day would typically be able to safely use their own desk. There is also a full-time cleaner on site each day to keep everything sanitized and permit access to the café, etc.
Staff who have spent time in the office recently have noted that the tranquility of the interior truly helps to alleviate the stress that so many of us are feeling right now. The staff had just enough time to settle into their new headquarters before COVID hit, and the company feels that the space has ideally positioned them to deliver the feeling of connection that staff will be looking for when everyone returns full time.
Was the C-suite involved in the project planning and design process?
Even the CEO sits in the open plan work area at Volaris. It is a totally democratic and collaborative space, with no private offices anywhere.
Was there any emphasis or requirements on programming for health and wellbeing initiatives for employees?
The wellness benefits provided by the strong connections to nature was of great importance to the design team and to the client.
What products or service solutions are making the biggest impact in your space?
- Aesync meeting room chairs
- Setu meeting room chairs
- Aeron task chairs
Soft seating from Keilhauer includes:
Also from Keilhauer:
- Juxta – round tables in small meeting rooms
- Syz – meeting room tables
- Talk – coffee tables in breakouts
- Cahoots – side tables in breakouts
Nienkamper: Vox fliptop tables – meeting room tables
Vitra: Workbay – phone booths
Maharam : Aside the Mountaintops mountainscape wall mural
- W Stools – café stools
- Laja – bar height tables in café
- Grapevine – side tables in café
- LAN – laptop tables in café and breakouts
- Moon – coffee tables in breakouts
- Bold – coffee tables in breakouts
- Stiks – coffee tables in breakouts
- 120-degree workstations
- glass walls
MCM: Custom Millwork and live edge Douglas fir harvest table fabrication
What kind of branding elements were incorporated into the design?
Volaris’s branding colors are blue and green – fortuitously shades found in nature. We picked up these colors in our upholstery choices as well as the workstation partitions, which not only subtly reinforces the branding, but it also strengthens the connection with the forest outside.
What is the most unique feature of the space?
The most unique feature is the Boardwalk. Workstations wind through the centre of the main space, leaving this six-foot-wide pathway along the floor-to-ceiling windows. Delineated by a change in direction of the flooring planks, this pathway is a simple intervention that democratizes Volaris’s office by ensuring equal access to the best views. The Boardwalk is scattered with cozy breakout zones and a series of eight-foot-tall ficus trees that visually pulls the forest right into the interior.
The design team used the views of the woodland outside to ensure staff are drawn into this shared amenity, where a variety of inviting soft seating from Keilhauer is waiting to host organic conversations and spontaneous collaboration. Accommodating groups of two to four, these touchdown spots suit a variety of purposes, as well as a variety of body types. We wanted every employee to be able find a comfortable spot that works for them.
Are there any furnishings or spaces specifically included to promote wellness/wellbeing?
The entire space establishes a strong connection to the natural environment in order to promote a sense of wellbeing.
If so, what were the most surprising or illuminating or hoped-for results?
The feedback from Volaris has been beyond positive. They feel as if their office is truly unique and report that all the bespoke details – from the custom-upholstered chairs in the breakouts, to the live-edge Douglas fir table in the café – provide the sense that their space is special and tailored to them. The level of detail combined with the quality of the materials instills a sense that the company has invested in its staff, and in their well-being.
The space has been effective in bringing together Volaris’s staff and supported the company in its goal to foster a more communicative and collaborative staff. As a more connected team they were better prepared to remain united, even as they were forced out of their physical space to work remotely.
Is there anything else that would help us tell the story of this project?
The design team’s holistic approach inspired a plethora of subtle details that further add to the intrigue of the breakouts. Many of the same features also intensify the connection to nature, which supports the overall feeling of comfort. For instance, on the soft seating nearest the window different upholstery fabrics are used on the front and the back. The variation is meant to echo nature, where no two things are exactly alike and everything looks different as your viewing angle shifts. The changes in color, pattern and texture feel more organic and add visual interest. Bartlett & Associates also requested the upholsterers used a visible top-stitch on these pieces, which lends a handmade feeling and adds to the tactile appeal.