ARIDO Award Winner: The Co-operators Regina

ARIDO Award Winner: The Co-operators Regina

By moving away from the traditional office environment to a nimbler workplace, The Co-operators started their move westward Canadian headquarters in Regina. They endeavoured to create a healthy and human-centric workplace that is deeply connected to their long-standing values of co-operation, folklore stories, and deep-rooted Canadian history. Environmental sustainability is paramount to this organization, so the team looked to best practices from LEED and WELL standards.

Category: WORK

Interior Designer: Pia Green, ARIDO
Design Firm: HOK
Design Team: Caitlin Turner, ARIDO; Rowena AuYeung, ARIDO; Charlene Isaacs, ARIDO

Photographer: Klassen Photography

The Co-operators wanted to ignite creativity, have staff engage with the brand and rich history, and provide an amazing food experience and client facing space. This required the interior design team to re-imagine how the existing aging building might be adapted to meet The Co-operators’ goals. As the first of several office re-designs across Canada, the design strategy needed to balance brand consistency along with moments that celebrate local culture and a sense of place.

The success of this project is heavily attributed to a collaborative approach with all parties at the table. Early and frequent communication with the landlord, contractors, consultants, and furniture suppliers helped to navigate the phased delivery of the building’s nine-storeys.

The design for The Co-operators’ new Regina headquarters was inspired by the co-founder’s description of the company as “an acorn that will grow into one of the greatest oak trees of the co-operative movement” by Albert Savage (LINK). Moved by this sentiment, the team imagined a design that draws influence from the natural world – in particular, the oak tree. It is also draws from three core values: foundation, collective, and enrichment.

The design team worked with the landlord to re-imagine the ineffective lobby area atrium by enlarging the ground floor and filling in the atrium of the second floor to create a large client conference space. With wellness and daylight as key drivers, the design team outlined where the landlord should add additional glazing, letting more daylight in. Building systems were reassessed and updated to increase energy efficiency and provide occupant comfort throughout.

The reception and conference areas are flanked by a curved sculptural wood wall, where ideas feed the organization. Much like the roots of the oak tree, the curved wall represents the “foundation” element. In true a co-operative spirit, the reception is a welcoming space for employees and the community alike. Rich tones, warm woods, local stone, and a fireplace give the space a feel rooted in hospitality. The embossed logo takes a softer approach to typical signage, and work from local artists are featured throughout the space, celebrating the diversity of the Regina landscape and its people.

The employees and visitors’ journey throughout the tower tie back to the oak tree with rich wood walls and a ceramic art installation in the elevator lobbies which mimics the natural growth of moss on the trunk of a tree. Perforated metal panels suspended from the elevator lobby ceilings are reminiscent of sunlight filtering through leafy canopies. The material palette combines natural local materials and textural references that draw from their deep-rooted history within Canada, coupled with contemporary finishes and features that celebrate The Co-operators’ fabled past and progressive future. Custom live-edge wood tables by Canadian furniture makers are used in the common spaces, and potash (a local Regina material) is referenced in the wall textures and graphics.

Stories of how the company was founded were translated into architectural features including: the curved wooden wall at reception and the perforated ceiling that leads from the elevator lobby to the café, which are both reminiscent of the oak tree; the wall paneling pattern suggestive of heavy tractor tires; and accessories, like apples and wheat, throughout the space that refer back to The Co-operators’ agricultural history.

The Co-operators’ folklore and history speaks to the concept of the “collective.” Inspired by the story of The Co-operators’ insurance agent who would meet with farmers on tractor tires, the team referenced this in the textured acoustic wall paneling in the meeting rooms. Wheat and apples that were once used for payment in hard times are displayed in the café. Integrated into the signage are historic and design intent plaques that highlight The Co-operators’ story and offer a curated experience to all.

Employee wellbeing was enhanced through biophilic elements such as natural wood, green walls, and plants that create a visually harmonious space, while also improving indoor air quality. The design also encourages employees to take mental and movement breaks throughout the day to connect with colleagues, as well as nature. All lighting and HVAC were upgraded and follow WELL design principles, and all employee desks are equipped with sit-stand capabilities and are placed around the perimeter of the building to ensure access to natural light.

“Enrichment” was implemented through a focus on sustainability and wellness, as well as community moments that showcase volunteer work done in the community. A ticker board in the café counts the hours that the employees have volunteered locally. The design also encourages employees to take mental and movement breaks throughout the day to connect with colleagues and nature.

The company also boasts a respectable national art collection which was incorporated into the program. Previously it was not properly displayed, and many pieces were kept in storage. The collection was incorporated into the overall program, with key moments that celebrate this incredible collection, while ensuring the pieces work in harmony with the overall design the space.

Several small floorplates required the design team to consider how to encourage staff to utilize movement throughout the building. Our solution was to create unique lobby experiences that open to a nourishment station on each floor to encourage staff to move throughout the space. Nourishment stations are flanked by large meeting rooms and allow for overflow capacity from other floors to access additional rooms with ease.

The interior design team worked to create a more inclusive space and support an increasingly neurodiverse workforce, by providing space for hypersensitive and hyposensitive individuals. Heads-down spaces are both quiet and active, and the plan hosts open and enclosed collaborative spaces. Furthermore, a custom glazing film was created to provide shielding for those within the space, while reinforcing our design concept of growth.

The Co-operators were passionate in going above and beyond local building code and embedding ‘best practices’ wherever possible. This included the addition of strobes where not necessarily required, oversized corridor widths to accommodate mobility devices, and increased use of items such as power door operators to future proof the space, while providing an equitable environment that embeds the principles of universal design. Wellness rooms were placed on each of the floor plates to encourage staff to take a private moment as needed.

To balance the high-tech nature of the employees’ daily activities, we introduced biophilic elements that evoke the feeling of nature and are calming, refreshing, and relaxing. This was addressed by incorporating natural materials, light, vegetation, and views to surrounding nature from the built environment. Natural wood, green walls and plants can be found throughout the space to improve indoor air quality and give employees a chance to connect to nature while indoors.

The finished product recognizes their past but is built with the future in mind by helping to support the health and wellbeing of its occupants. The Co-operators Group is now empowered with a robust design solution that translates their brand story throughout their office. In our client’s words, “It is now a space that we can showcase to our clients on who we truly are as an organization.”

Project Details:

Project Location: Regina, SK
Project Completion Date: August 2020
Project Square Footage: 125, 000 square feet

Pia Green

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