Ottawa Construction News staff writer
The Tomlinson Group’s new CORE head office in Ottawa’s southern Barrhaven district has proven how creativity, collaboration, perseverance and talent can combine to create an exceptional building, and provides a case study of how a successful architect can turn inspiration into an effective structure encouraging further collaboration and inspiration.
The building, which opened in 2018 provides a working environment more commonly associated with high tech organizations than for a business providing transportation, infrastructure and waste management services.
It includes two linked structures, a 16,825 sq.m. four-storey office building and a 670 sq. m. one-storey testing facility, with ground floors incorporated into surrounding berms.
Expanding on the client’s, Christopher Simmonds Architect project lead Samantha Schneider came up with the building’s design concept in 2015.
“The building is lifted off the ground on a bermed plinth which is wrapped in greenscape,” says Benjamin Gianni, associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Architecture and Urbanism. “The result is not only a handsome, well-proportioned building but one that is full of light. From the outside it’s a bit like a beacon on a hill.”
Simmonds, who has led the Ottawa-based practice since 1996, said Tomlinson invited four architects to submit initial design proposals for the new structure, designed to consolidate the company’s various divisions at eight or so locations across the region into one office.
Schneider says she came up with the fundamental building design in a moment of inspiration, though the development of the design evolved based on the client’s input. The main four-storey building (with an open atrium on three stories, and offices stretching across the fourth floor), is linked to a second structure where the company’s technical and testing operations are housed.
“We were looking for an idea which says something about Tomlinson’s business and values. So (we developed) this notion that the site was something like a restored quarry site – where you entered the earth as you approach the building, and then we showed a bridge-like structure hovering over the base, all of these things spoke to the type of company or the type of work that Tomlinson does,” she said.
She says designers met with staff in Tomlinson’s different divisions to ensure their specific needs were met, and Tomlinson executives were actively engaged in the process, as the company sought to build a collaborative culture.
Hence, the eating and meeting areas on every floor, including a large open-plan cafeteria on the main level – designed to bring workers together from the different divisions.
However, reflecting Tomlinson’s business, there also is an extensive locker room, shower and change area near the entrance, accommodating staff returning from construction sites. The ground floor also includes generous training rooms and a gym.
Simmonds said Tomlinson kept a close oversight of the overall project cost. It acted as its own general contractor and hired TalCo Building Innovations as a construction manager.
Some of the biggest design challenges included the company’s growth. Christopher Simmonds Architect’s original concept called for some allocated space within the structure, but as work progressed it was discovered Tomlinson would need that area for additional offices, as the staff grew from 170 to 240 people. Simmonds says the building has been planned so it can be extended further if the company needs even more space in the future.
For the architect, Tomlinson’s CORE structure reflects the practice’s strength in a diversity of projects.
To give some background on the firm, Christopher Simmonds Architect has a team of about a dozen designers, architects and other specialists. It is well recognized in the residential construction community winning many awards within the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) Housing Design Awards competition for truly impressive single family homes.
Simmonds says in fact the practice is about 50 per cent single family residential and 50 per cent multi-unit residential, commercial and institutional and he strives to keep that balance.
“We’re in a fortunate position to have a wide range of building types,” he said. Some other significant projects include the Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority offices, the Eddy Condominiums, Red Team Office and Warehouse Headquarters, and in West Quebec, the Wakefield Community Centre. The Simmonds’ team works independently and collaborates with other organizations, such as a large project planned for the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa in co-operation with SvN Architects from Toronto that specializes in church redevelopment projects.
Simmonds says he enjoys the response of people who work or live in the structures his team has designed. “We have homeowners who are thoroughly enjoying their homes and we have building owners, such as the Tomlinson Group, who tell us their employees love working in the facility – and how the structure has been instrumental in creating their particular work culture and developing their business.”
“All of this powerful feedback is what makes architecture worth doing,” he said.
“I’d like to congratulate the firm (Tomlinson) and the architect (Simmonds) for setting such a high standard for work environments here in Ottawa,” Benjamin Gianni said during an open house at the CORE building in September of this year. “The building is both perfectly located and perfectly designed for those who use it.”