For more than 60 years, the team of engineers, architects and planners at J.L. Richards & Associates Limited has helped clients of all sizes and sectors bring their projects to life – all from the company’s headquarters in the Carlington neighbourhood.
During the pandemic however, the team took on a significant office redesign project that got the entire company involved: Its own.
While the multidisciplinary firm had initially planned to build a new five-storey building to house JLR’s Ottawa team – which at the time was spread out across three locations – the quick-changing needs of a hybrid workstyle presented a new opportunity.
Instead, the employee-owned company re-evaluated its plans and relocated the entire team to Little Italy after overhauling the ninth and tenth floor at 343 Preston St.
“The pandemic allowed us to pause and see if our plans still made sense for this new world of work,” said René Lambert, vice-president of JLR. “I think what we’ve done is smart, sustainable, and lets us invest in our future.”
Operating as owner, architect, designer, engineer and tenant, the JLR team worked together to create a custom-built space that supported how employees want to work, and also positioned the company to put a new foot forward in the organization’s history.
Rethinking the layout
One of the most striking things about JLR’s new office space is the layout.
In the center of the building is the elevator bay and washroom access, while the working areas outline the perimeter in an infinite loop.
“It’s almost like a racetrack,” says Sébastien Racine, senior architect at JLR and project manager on the office redesign.
The architecture of the space could have posed a challenge, he mentioned, with 45 degree angle corners featured throughout. Instead, it became an element the team used to their advantage and adapted into little alcoves to create more usable space.
“We decided to lean into that structure to help develop the office and create a unique design and layout that was specific to this building,” he adds.
By positioning the work stations around the exterior of the office, it also allowed the team to capitalize on the natural light and views from the various windows, moving away from the traditional closed offices featured in their previous building.
Instead, there is balance throughout, with about half of the office having open-concept working areas while the other half is enclosed. Areas like the large kitchen featuring comfy seating remain a fixture and offer meeting space for the wider team.
A space for everyone
Despite covering two floors of The Adobe Tower, JLR’s new office space feels cohesive and connected, with each floor using different colours to help with wayfinding.
An eye-catching black staircase is also prominently placed, connecting the two levels, which was an important piece of the design, says Patrick Gehling, lead designer and assistant project manager on the project.
“We had to think carefully about how people would flow between the spaces and make sure that it still felt like one environment,” said Gehling. “While it was probably the last element we added to the space, it’s one that made a major difference.”
Like many other companies, JLR has also adopted a hybrid, activity based work style. This allows team members to work from home up to 40 per cent of their work week, while providing various work stations in the office depending on the task at hand – a key decision that allowed the company to move to a more sustainable office space.
Employees can reserve a workspace, board room or private office using an app, which creates equality between employees, says Kristin McCartney, human resources manager.
“There are no hierarchies when the president himself must also book a space and work from the same desks as the rest of the team,” she says. “I think the cornerstone of a design like this is to promote and foster the well being of our employees using the space, and inclusivity is a key part of that.”
Building in company values
Amidst the move to a new building, JLR’s team also took a closer look at how it would make the office more collaborative, as well as sustainable.
The new office helps reduce JLR’s carbon footprint by moving to activity-based/hybrid work, less floor area is required which reduces the office’s energy consumption, and retrofitting an existing office space reduces the embodied carbon that would have been required to construct a new office building. As well, employees can reduce their own carbon footprints through access to secure indoor bike storage, showers/change rooms, public transit, dedicated EV charging parking spots, and remote work.
The company is now using a paper-light model, limiting its printing and moving many of its processes over to digital, which has significantly reduced its overall printing costs. And with a hybrid team, many employees have reduced their commuting by 30 to 40 per cent.
An appreciation for sustainability was also carried throughout the design, with a big focus on biophilia, or the incorporation of natural elements into the office. Plants are featured throughout, which is a nice complement to the various waterways and greenspaces nearby in the neighborhood, says McCartney.
The company has also found unique ways to pay homage to its own history and the city it calls home.
In the reception area they have a display case with trinkets from the company’s decades in business, and in certain areas, big prints on the walls featuring photos of their own projects.
“Some of our offices are named after our previous Ottawa buildings, or of popular local landmarks like Rideau or Byward,” she adds. “For us, it was a really nice way to recognize the city that our team is helping to build as engineers, architects, and planners.”
As J.L. Richards begins its second year in its Preston Street office, the team remains excited both about the future and the opportunities for growth.
And with an office built with flexibility in mind, the company is well positioned to adapt with the times, says Lambert.
“We’ve got the right facilities, the right technology and the right people to make this a great place to work,” he adds. “The investments that we’re making into the future aren’t just paying dividends now, they’ll continue to do so decades down the road.”