If the pandemic revealed anything about the workplace, it’s that the concept of a static office isn’t a viable solution to today’s workers who are more mobile and agile than ever. Getting people back into the office has required businesses and developers to enlist the help of designers to create spaces people want to come back to rather than work from home.
The community of Scarborough in Ontario, Canada is a perfect example of a growing neighborhood that was prime for an innovation hub where people could come to work, connect and be inspired. Working with LCH Developments, RAW Design helped create Merge Spaces, a vibrant, first-of-its-kind co-working space that’s filled with amenities and event programming to support local creators and businesses.
Merge Spaces offers a variety of amenities and workspaces including private offices, a presentation and events space, dedicated desks, sound-proof phone booths, a games/lounge room and a fully stocked café. Alongside the inspiring offices and workstations, the multiuse space is designed as an experience, where members and visitors are exposed to curated programming and business-building collaboration opportunities in a lively atmosphere.
“The change with what’s happening with coworking is that it fills a lot of different roles, so it not only becomes a workplace, but it also becomes a place for multiple companies to come together and collaborate,” said Taylor Roth, interior designer at RAW Design. “We wanted to design a space that was not just an office, filled with closed offices, open offices and touchdown desks, but also had the ability to present an opportunity that you could have events in that space. We proposed to [the client] layouts that would bring together multiple different types of activities into one hub.”
To that end, Merge Spaces consists of two floors of communal spaces, private offices, collaborative workstations and meeting rooms—all knit together with a series of bright and vibrant murals that incorporate motifs unique to its locale. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a white granite reception desk set against a live moss wall that provides a welcoming and warm entrance. A bright magenta motif carried throughout the two-story space infuses the environment with a bold yet harmonious feeling, carefully accented by pops of color through the upholstery, complemented by natural and muted undertones throughout the finishings.
Prioritizing flexible, dynamic spaces, a variety of office types and meeting rooms are available for a range of needs, from individuals to small companies. Each office or meeting room is designed as its own “house,” named and designed to pay homage to different housing typologies. Whether in the “Castle,” “Victorian” or “Loft,” each office features transparent glass doors and windows to let in natural light while maintaining privacy.
Custom wood tables serve as anchor pieces, with different sizes available to accommodate a range of teams. Harvest tables in communal working spaces are designed to facilitate less formal seating arrangements and give everyone the option to choose the level of interaction that best suits their working style.
Let There Be Light
The upper floor complements the offerings on the ground level with dedicated individual desks, offering panoramic views of Kingston Road and the quaint restaurants, cafes and businesses that line the busy commercial strip surrounding the building. However, building out the second floor to allow light into the space and views of the outdoors proved to be a significant design challenge that required the project team to replace the building’s facade.
“The only way to add that second floor would be we would have to rip out that existing facade and change it to curtainwall—change it to glazing—so that natural light would actually reach the offices on the second floor. And that is what brought so much life to that building,” Roth explained.
Replacing the small, punched windows along the existing exterior wall had the added benefit of providing more architectural and visual interest to the non-descript, brick-and-stucco building, said Heather Woolvett, architect at RAW Design.
“The city is starting to add density now, and adding that curtain wall really served to animate the building more,” Woolvett said. “[As a pedestrian], you can peer into this space and see all of the dynamic colors and the really activated spaces.”
Inspiring Artwork and Programming
Colorful murals by Toronto muralists Mel Coleman and Colombian-born Cesar Rodriguez adorn all available wall space for a total of 12 unique creations throughout the inspiring office.
“LCH ended up hiring a local muralist—it was a pair of artists who took our pallets, and they actually took our finish schedules and our finish selections, and they pulled [inspiration from] things of current nature, whether it would be the NFTs or things that are representative of ‘techie-ness,’” Roth recalled, to appeal to the tech-startup types interested in occupying the space.
With a signature graffiti-style, each mural explores different themes and flavors specific to Scarborough, with elements of realism woven throughout. Contrasting textures, black and white juxtaposed with vivid colors and photorealistic elements contribute to the energizing environment.
Programming and animating the space with regular and recurring events and gatherings is an integral component of the Merge Spaces offering. Events are hosted in the expansive Treehouse presentation space, designed in open concept style with amphitheater seating. The Treehouse offers a large television and podium with capacity of up to 150. A two-story live moss wall anchors the space, providing an uplifting connection to nature and enhancing the acoustics of the area.
A Dynamic Home Away from Home
The Treehouse presentation space is flanked by the fully stocked Café with lounge and booth seating available for members and event guests. Unlimited coffee, tea and snacks are included at no cost. The common spaces are intentionally flexible and juxtaposed, designed to encourage spontaneous interactions and collaborations over lunch.
“I think [the space] gives people the flexibility needed post-pandemic,” Roth said. “It really creates that home away from home, which we’re seeing as a desire from the workforce moving forward. And I think that that’s one of the most successful things about the space—it’s warm, it’s comfortable”—and let’s not forget, fun.
Directly behind the Treehouse presentation area lies the games room, a place to disconnect from work while liaising with other entrepreneurs and creatives. Open to all members, the games room includes a pool table, a ping pong table, various video game systems and more—all with the aim of pulling people back into the space.
“You have a segment of the population that’s really itching to get back [to the office] because they want to see people and interact with people, but then you have the people that are like, ‘Actually, I’m quite comfortable still working from home,’” Woolvett noted. “So, this place gives you the comforts of home, but it also gives you an exciting place to work. It’s this vibrant, dynamic place—something that you wouldn’t necessarily have at home. It’s a beautiful place to work, so maybe that pulls you back to the office.”
One look at Merge Spaces and that “maybe” becomes a “definitely.”