Making Space for "Reliable Magic"

The feature article "workspaces/workplaces", in the spring 2010 issue of Perspectives journal, includes Farrow's workspace environment that delivers "reliable magic."

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Sharon Vanderkaay, B.Sc. Design, Assoc. AIA

Working with architects has the potential to be an eye-opening, creatively stimulating experience for all project participants. In order for the profession to take full advantage of this leadership opportunity, clients, consultants and colleagues must be able to work together - and individually - in a variety of scenarios. Farrow Partnership Architects set out to provide the right environment to inspire and engage people in a design strategy and implementation process that celebrates and supports what we feel the firm does best—deliver reliable magic.
What kind of space supports reliable magic? 
Recognizing that our business success depends on the reliable creation and application of knowledge, our goal was to enhance both collaboration and concentration. The magic of creating breakthrough ideas and better solutions is enabled by the following elements:  
  1. Located on the top floor of a 1916 industrial building in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy, this workspace benefits from a 360-degree view of both the immediate neighborhood and the city. Such a panoramic view invites expansive thoughts, while raising awareness of its relationship to a larger world.    
  2. Re-use of warm, natural brick and timber materials from the building’s earlier era maintain a sense of history, while reflecting the firm’s overall philosophy of reinforcing inherent emotional connections to local culture and the natural world. 
  3. Movement through the space reveals natural nodes for working and the display of architectural models. An oversized central kitchen table invites spontaneous conversation and informal meetings. An organic lighting arrangement evokes the bubbling up of bright ideas.  These examples express another element of the firm's philosophy; the desire to work with human nature, rather than against it.
  4. Model-making is treated as interactive theatre by providing space in a centre-stage location, rather than relegating it solely to a back-of-the-house position.
  5. Open and permeable meeting areas inspire big thinking, while accommodating various modes of participation. In place of rigid partitions that require people to work either inside or outside a meeting space, plug-in bar surfaces and informal seating areas serve as soft edges. This approach re-imagines the boardroom as naturally fluid space.
  6. An essential element of creating reliable magic is the capacity to think out loud and make these evolving thoughts visible. Rather than awards and photos of past work, Farrow’s main meeting spaces feature wall-to-wall white boards that capture ideas and facilitate lively conversations. The space is further animated by staff artwork.
 Although there will always be some degree of mystery to what architects do, our workspace can improve everyone’s appreciation of an effective, engaging and value-creating project delivery process.

"I really like the fact that I'm not confined to my desk because there are many different kinds of places where I can work within the office. As I see it, this opportunity for choice and variety stimulates creativity on a daily basis. People don't feel pressured to stay and produce at a desk all day." - Sean Stanwick, Associate
"On early winter mornings I can see the bubble lights up on our 5th floor when I arrive at my streetcar stop on College Street. They are playful and light-hearted, which starts my day off with a uplifting frame of mind. For me, the whole experience of working in the space is energizing. In contrast to offices that are slick and corporate and generic, this place feels to me like it has a personality that is unique to us." - Sharon Vanderkaay

"This week we used our open kitchen to create a whole feast for the holiday season. I'm happy to see that it brings people together and builds understanding that goes beyond what happens in an ordinary staff lunchroom." - Tye Farrow, Principal

Sharon VanderKaay is the Director, Knowledge Development at the Farrow Partnership.