With construction work now wrapping up on The Well — a major mixed-use development that spans 4,000 square metres at the western edge of Toronto’s downtown — the 36-storey office tower at the southeastern corner of the project site has brought a welcome dose of high-tech architecture to the city’s skyline.

As some of Toronto’s first major commercial real estate to be completed since the pandemic, the Hariri Pontarini-designed skyscraper (and its distinctive, side-loaded elevator core) is also becoming a symbol of a new era of office work. While 8 Spadina Avenue has not been without its share of surprise tenant drama, businesses like the Toronto Star are now fully moved in, proving that, for many companies, the physical office is here to stay. Mind you, that’s not to say that 2023 office culture has to resemble that of 2019. For more on that lesson, look to another of The Well’s tenants: architecture firm BDP Quadrangle.

A person working on a laptop in the corner of a glass tower at the Toronto office of BDP Quadrangle.

Along with renting space at The Well, BDP Quadrangle is also one of the project’s main architects, responsible for designing a soon-to-open three-storey retail corridor topped with a sinuous steel-and-glass canopy. Drawing upon The Well’s dynamic mix of spaces (which, along with offices and a shopping corridor, will also include restaurants, housing, and a park), BDP Quadrangle has approached its 3,700-square-metre office space as a series of distinct zones. Call it mixed-use workspace design.

Two people stand at a white counter in front of a shelving system lined with material samples at the Toronto office of architecture firm BDP Quadrangle.

The firm had already started considering new approaches to work back before the pandemic, when it first embarked on plans to relocate their studio. But Toronto’s extended lockdowns created an opportunity to complete a more meaningful rethink of how to structure a modern architecture studio. “We thought about every possible scenario of how people might want to work and what they would need to work successfully,” says Andrea McCann, an Associate at BDP Quadrangle who led the interior design of the new workspace. As she and her team saw it, if successful remote work depended on embracing new technologies, then successful hybrid work depended on encouraging new behaviours.

A corner area of BDP Quadrangle's office, filled with plants and armchairs looks out through floor-to-ceiling glass windows to the Toronto skyline.

As a result, the one-to-one desk-to-employee ratio that BDP Quadrangle had formerly embraced was abandoned to make space for areas that instead cater to different aspects of the creative process. The plant-filled Oasis is a dedicated quiet zone, the Black Box is meant to be a focused meeting space free of visual distractions, and the Back Alley is designed as a dynamic collaboration area lit with neon signage to create a relaxed, social ambiance.

People sit in a meeting room separated from a hallway by opaque glass walls.
A corridor with polygonal carpeting features neon text that spells out "Back Alley." A long row of grey lights hangs overhead.

Meanwhile, the office’s workstations are now part of a hot desking configuration powered by an internal booking system. A flexible work policy allows employees to come in and book spaces as needed. Of the office’s seven focused work “neighbourhoods,” three are dedicated to the firm’s support teams (IT, admin and finance), while the others tend to fill up with people who are in similar work mindsets — with some more prone to chatter, and others reserved for head-down activity.

A person walks up a staircase's wooden stairs. The staircase is framed with perforated white metal panels.

“It’s very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ in the sense that we’re giving people the ability to do what’s right for them. Sometimes you don’t want stimuli and sometimes you do. It doesn’t need to be a traditional Monday to Friday, 9–5 model anymore,” says McCann. Just as offices play an important role in a mixed-use neighbourhood, the desk continues to remain a key part of a successful work environment. But in 2023, it’s just that — a piece of the puzzle, rather than the whole solution.

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