Lemay’s open-plan design is being replicated across more than a dozen of the company’s Canadian offices.
PROJECT: BDO National Office LOCATION: Toronto SIZE: 43,500 square feet COMPLETION: July 2018 ARCHITECT: Lemay ENGINEER: HIDI Group STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS: Jablonsky, Ast and Partners AUDIOVISUAL & ACOUSTIC ENGINEER: sparkAV GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Govan Brown, Greenferd Construction
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, BDO’s Canadian national offices must be blushing. The accounting firm’s Toronto headquarters, designed by Lemay architects and completed in 2018, weds a flexible, open-office plan with comprehensive biophilic and indoor-outdoor design—and now the same conceptual guidelines that drove the project are guiding Lemay’s designs for their regional offices across Canada.
The office—which occupies the third, fourth, and fifth levels of a 62-story, LEED Gold–certified skyscraper in downtown Toronto—is designed to encourage employee mobility. The core has enclosed offices, for those who prefer private workspaces, which give way to open, sit-stand workstations with unassigned seating, which in turn give way to “interior park” perimeters, flush with natural light, plant life, and soft, wooden separations.
“For us, the biophilic strategy isn’t just about the plants; it’s the integration of natural materials, the textures, the wood, the plants, the art—it’s all a combination of biophilic elements. These connections to nature were critical for the health and well-being of BDO employees,” says Sandra Neill, an associate partner at Lemay and an interior design strategist with the firm.
On BDO’s uppermost level, an exterior balcony furthers the link to nature. It flows from the so-called Center of Excellence, a multi-use level that includes executive space, plus boardrooms, client meeting rooms, and dining area—all of which can be made contiguous by opening partitions and moving modular furniture. The center serves as a training ground for employees from all across Canada, eliminating the need for off-site rentals and saving money and resources.
Another notable feature is the eye-catching, no-maintenance moss wall, which links BDO’s two top levels. “It was a way to bring in green elements without spending a lot of money, both initially and over the lifetime of the space,” Neill says. The moss adheres to the standard humidity conditions of the office, and therefore doesn’t need constant upkeep.
The new office design expanded BDO’s usable area by some 2,000 square feet over its previous site, but across the same number of floors. A combination of fewer closed offices, more open workstations, and a smaller workstation footprint led to the reduced footprint—and 16% real estate savings, according to Lemay.
Now, from Winnipeg to Waterloo, 14 BDO offices in Canada have either finished similar design undertakings or are in the process. They won’t be identical, but the green strategy and focus on mobility will be the guiding principle for the future.
The site’s high ceilings were an attractive design element, but the extensive height needed to be strategically reduced in certain places in order to create better working environments. Lemay added suspended acoustical clouds and integrated lighting over all the workspaces, boardrooms, and meeting rooms, leaving open ceilings and exposed piping and ductwork throughout the circulation areas.
The kitchen area pictured above flows into a meeting room, which flows to the boardroom. Spaces are separated by telescoping folding walls from Skyfold that fold up like an accordian into the ceiling. One side is custom-skinned with a writable surface; the other has wood veneer. “When you’re in the kitchen and the wall’s down, it’s a biophilic element interacting with natural light and plants. It’s the Cadillac of doors in terms of function and acoustics,” Neill says. Tables flip up and move out, and electrical connections lie flat. “They can really open up the space for events and let people circulate between the three rooms and exterior terrace.”
Unlike BDO Toronto’s top floor, the level directly below doesn’t have a balcony, per se, but Lemay was able to conceive a windowside park space that provides a sense of natural peace. “Just slightly away from the work zones, these perimeters really cater to someone who maybe just needs to sit down, take a call, or read a document away from their desk, or have a small one-on-one meeting, or just reflect away from one’s regular regular work area,” Neill says.
Greenery for All
Lightweight wireframes suspended from the ceiling allow for more plant life in a way that breaks up the open space and makes the greenery feel more incorporated overall. “When I first started working with BDO, I noticed plants everywhere, on individual desks, or a potted plant in the corner. So for a no-assigned-seating open plan, we devised a more collective arrangement” that simultaneously varies the ceiling heights, Neill says. Plants are easy to replace in the frames, so, unlike the permanent moss, allow for more seasonality.