Established in 1996, Simmonds Architecture is an award-winning leader in modern design. While being best known throughout Ottawa for its custom housing, the firm has also worked on projects such as the Tomlinson Group headquarters, supportive mixed-use housing for a non-profit organization and, most recently, a specialty medical clinic with surgical operating suites.
The year 2020 was a big one for the firm: as well as undergoing a brand change, Simmonds Architecture moved its offices from Chinatown to Centretown.
Samantha Schneider, a project and design principal at Simmonds, explains that the previous office space was becoming too small for the growing company. “We were looking for a space where we could start fresh and look at our identity again.”
The team found just that in their new office located at 340 Catherine St. The building — which used to house the Canadian Red Cross — is two storeys, with Simmonds Architecture taking over the ground floor. But, while the new office was large enough, it didn’t have the modern, inspirational feel the team was aiming for, so they gutted it and started from scratch.
Led by Schneider, the firm took on its own redesign to create a space that drives creativity and innovation.
A brand new look
When you enter the new office, you’re immediately met with a calm, bright atmosphere. Oak counters and workstations run parallel along two walls, with natural light flooding in through large windows.
The office has a neutral colour palette, featuring clean whites and natural greys. Through a careful curation of different textures, including white oak accents, the space is minimalistic while also radiating warmth and dynamism.
An open ceiling shows off the building’s charcoal-grey truss work, as well as exposed mechanical systems, helping to strike a balance between “contemporary and casual simplicity,” says Christopher Simmonds, the firm’s principal and owner.
In a unique design choice, the conference room is located in the middle of the office, instead of being tucked away in a corner. An angular, partially transparent block with detailed glass, ribbed cladding panels and white oak trim, the design of the room signals to clients that, when they come to Simmonds Architecture, they’re the main focus.
Placing the conference room in the centre of the space also ensures that no employee is isolated in the “back” of the office because, arguably, there is no back.
“We wanted to keep a certain openness and fluid connection running throughout the whole space,” Schneider says.
Simmonds jokingly adds that if anyone brings their children or dogs to work, “you can play chase — it's fabulous.”
Through subtle design, the firm has ensured that each area of the office flows seamlessly into the next, from the modern kitchenette to the light-filled reception area.
“It's all homogenous, in a way, because we like to be together,” Schneider says.
At the same time, privacy was top of mind during the renovation — the conference wall is soundproofed, and staff can choose whether to work in groups in collaborative areas or go solo with single flexible standing desks.
Collaboration is key
Located in Centretown, the office was a rare find downtown. Simmonds explains that, usually, buildings like this one are limited to industrial parks, far away from any commercial centre.
“The idea that we could be in a spot where it's handy to pop out, get some lunch and then take a walk — it was all-important to have that sort of amenity,” Simmonds says, adding that the location is also convenient for clients as it’s right off the Queensway.
The firm’s team can walk or bike to work, so Simmonds Architecture added bike racks and showers to the new office.
“It's all things people asked for,” Simmonds says. “We wanted to be able to accommodate.”
Schneider adds, “I think people feel more invested in our office now than they did in our previous space.” And it makes sense that they would — the redesign was a fully collaborative process between the firm’s architects.
As experts in the field, Simmonds Architecture didn’t run into any notable challenges when redesigning the new office. However, there was one big differentiator between this project and all their others: “We always have to find solutions that satisfy a client — in this case, ourselves,” Schneider says. “The greatest challenge, though I think it's a good one, was us.”
Schneider explains that, as part of the redesign, the team had to hone in on and define their collective identity. “Although someone may lead the process, everybody has been involved throughout,” she says.
An exciting future
The completed office received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the firm’s team. During the first week of March 2020, Simmonds Architecture moved into the newly renovated space — then, the pandemic hit. “We had a very fun first two weeks,” Simmonds says. “We were very pleased with ourselves, but then we all had to go home to work.”
Over the last few months, the team has slowly begun to return to the office. “There's a sense of collaboration, a sense of pride,” Schneider says about the new space.
And, as things continue to re-open, the team is once again able to meet with clients in the office. “Our new space truly demonstrates the thought and care we put into our designs,” adds Simmonds.