“Good ideas never come from a single person,” says Paul Sabourin. “They come from putting your heads together until you find the right approach.” Mr. Sabourin sounds a bit like an architect; in fact, he is the chairman and chief investment officer of Polar Asset Management Partners in Toronto. But the hedge fund firm recently channeled the expertise of the architecture and interiors firm MJMA into a new space that, like a design studio, facilitates collaboration and creative thinking.
The 25,000-square-foot space occupies a full floor in a new 32-story office tower in Toronto’s downtown. The building, designed by locally based B+H Architects, is coolly corporate in feel: curtain wall wraps a column-and-slab concrete structure. But MJMA’s team strived to make the Polar spaces feel “intimate, even domestic,” says the firm’s interior-design lead, Sean Solowski, employing a tight palette of materials, emphasized by soft-touch felt walls and white oak.
As clients exit the elevator, they emerge into a reception area that feels like a five-star hotel: low lighting, black-slate flooring, oak millwork, and a residential-style arrangement of a sofa and oak side chairs. A painting by the Canadian modernist Guido Molinari hangs to one side.
The reception area (above) and client lounge (top) seem more like a five-star hotel than an office. Photo © Scott Norsworthy
This client/architect pairing is an unusual one. MJMA is a multidisciplinary practice that generally works on public buildings, particularly aquatic and recreational centers, such as a recently completed complex in nearby Mississauga, Ontario, and others under way across Canada, as well as in Arlington, Virginia, and Auckland, New Zealand. However, they have worked for years on offices for Polar. “The clients believe very deeply in their people and in the importance of architecture,” says MJMA partner Ted Watson. “They really understand that space matters.”
The floor plan is simple and rational. Two corridors run lengthwise, dividing the rectangular floor plate into three slices. Each of these corridors connects client and support spaces at the east end to the firm’s private offices and trading floor to the west. The corridors are clad, floor and ceiling, with the white oak, providing a graphic contrast with the gray and black tones of many of the other surfaces. Where a corridor passes an open office, the wall transitions into an elegant screen system: panels of glass sandwich a shoji-like lattice of white oak. This system allows light to penetrate while preserving acoustic privacy.
Aside from circulation, these corridors have another important function: their walls hold a significant collection of Canadian modern art. Sabourin says the art collection stimulates innovative thinking and signals the company’s values. “We think it’s important to be well-rounded and ask our people to think about the arts,” he says. “A lot of people feel this is a special workplace, and the art is part of that,” adds Abdalla Ruken, the company’s deputy CIO.
Collaboration and communication are crucial. The company’s trading floor occupies the northwest corner in a single uninterrupted space. (Both Sabourin and Ruken have desks here; the company has no private executive offices.) MJMA designed the trader workstations to hold as many as six displays per person for the seamless accommodation of video calls and collaboration: Each desk includes a protruding bench where a colleague can sit down to look at the screens and discuss business. The architects also designed custom acoustic panels for the ceiling; its square-shaped modules peak at their centers, providing a visual rhythm that evokes a modernist waffle slab while also dampening sound.
The work floor includes open office (1) and collaboration spaces (2) with acoustic ceilings, an art vault (3), and curated corridors (4). Photos © Scott Norsworthy
The second largest room in the office is a lounge, which combines lunchroom and gathering place. Here the white oak of the corridors spills out onto the floor and ceiling, to define a meeting area. Bleacher seating helps accommodate large groups; to one side is a living green wall lined with banquettes. Low seating can be moved around to hold small groups. Meanwhile, two sculptures by the Canadian artist Sorel Etrog peek in from the hallway.
A sculpture-lined corridor/gallery (5) leads into a lounge and kitchen (6 & 7), where employees gather for meals, socializing, and informal meetings. Photos © Scott Norsworthy
This arrangement is more flexible than a traditional boardroom, Ruken explains; employees can drift in at the edges to join weekly meetings of the portfolio managers, which are followed by a staff breakfast. “People bump into people, and things happen,” Sabourin says. “That’s what we’re aiming for, and this space very much allows for that.” The lunchroom, meanwhile, includes a harvest table that seats 16.
Back in the front lobby, Watson points out an adjacent gallery room, where a graphic painting by the Canadian abstractionist Jack Bush seems to pop out from the gray acoustic-felt panels. “There are moments where the architecture really needs to quiet down,” he says. The black terrazzo tile, black walls, and black ceiling do just that; like the rest of the space, they provide an elegant frame for people, art, and ideas to come together.
Click plan to enlarge
MJMA Architecture & Design — Ted Watson, partner in charge; Sean Solowski, project manager; Dhruv Soni, Kyung-Sun Hur, Ziyang (Vincent) Luo, Snezana Smileva, design team
Smith & Anderson (m/e)
Boszko & Verity
Demetriou Art Group (art); 8 Plus (door and hardware supply)
Polar Asset Management Partners
25,000 square feet
Stadia Glass and Door
Bravura; Modern Fold
Millwork & Lattice Screen Partitions:
Millworks Custom Manufacturing (2001)
Fenix; Formica: Laminam
Floor & Wall Tile:
Mattoli; Stone Tile
Camino Systems (raised); Interface (carpet)
B.Lux; Lightform; Axis; Salex; Crestron (controls)
New Earth Solutions
Humanscale; Steelcase: POI