With a prime location right on north Yonge Street, this 30-year-old Toronto office tower held great promise for new owners Crown Realty. But if the building was going to live up to its potential – and attract a stable of vibrant, youthful companies as tenants – the interiors would need to be brought into the 21st century.
Prior to its redesign by interiors studio Bartlett & Associates, the tower’s lobby was dark and claustrophobic, with granite-clad bulkheads wrapping the upper reaches and an imposing black reception desk overwhelming the entry. The B|A team achieved a complete transformation of the space through a careful reconfiguration of the architecture and the insertion of a few statement-making elements. “It was a modest budget,” explains principal designer Inger Bartlett. “So we allocated costs according to impact and focused on a few key gestures.”
The cornerstone of the project is a perforated metal screen devised to play up the lobby’s best feature – its 30-foot ceilings. Rising between the elevators and the repositioned front desk, the bespoke screen stretches the full height of the space, its laser-cut apertures forming an abstract image of a forest. Light washes through on each side, like fading sun filtering through the trees.
A dynamic art piece, an anchor for the desk, and an acoustic intervention, the screen also defines the elevator bay and masks a bulkhead wall. Most of the original granite walls and flooring were left intact and reclad in updated materials to limit demolition costs. However, by removing the stone from the bulkhead above the elevator area, the team was able to repurpose the existing mounting system to support the sculptural panel.
The black screen is contrasted by a white wall that runs perpendicular, its three-dimensional surface capturing light and shadow in a manner that evokes a rippling body of water. The biophilic references continue with the flooring, which includes visually textured carpet and ceramic slabs in stony greys. Marble-look Laminam tiles were chosen for their scale – their three-by-nine-foot span makes the lobby feel larger, while the thin profile permitted installation over the existing granite floor. The remaining stone surfaces in the space are concealed behind wood-textured wall panels.
An injection of colour is finally added in the public café, a cozy annex where tenants can bring lunch or hold an impromptu meeting. Defined by a high-back banquette in striking red upholstery, the café is crowned by a series of walnut slats. Both complementing and contrasting the honey-hued walls, the darker walnut planks serve both to enhance acoustics and to hide mechanical systems.
At the centre of the main volume, smartly tailored seating shapes back-to-back lounge areas, lending the project a vibe that feels more akin to a hospitality setting than an office tower. An amenity for visitors and employees alike, the lobby is more than just a transition area, it’s a flexible space that supports a range of activities, from quiet breaks to company events.
“The goal for this project was to make an impression on prospective tenants,” says Bartlett. “But this is also a place where employees can take a break and escape their work day for a few moments. We wanted to give them something equally tranquil and energizing.”