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Designing open concept offices in anchorage Stantec showcases interaction at CIRI's Fireweed Business Center.

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Creating a comfortable and efficient workspace that fosters creativity, embraces natural light, and reflects a company's mission is no easy task. But the potential payoff--more opportunities for in-office collaboration, better employee retention rates, and the ability to attract motivated new workers--may be worth it.

According to a December 18, 2015, story in "Fast Company," a business magazine that focuses on technology, business, and design, top trends in office design include: bringing the outdoors in; using design tools to hide electronic wires and "declutter" a space; getting rid of offices and assigned desks in favor of multi-purpose space useful for deskwork and meetings; designated lounge areas that allow workers to move to a more comfortable environment for some tasks; organizing offices with pops of color; utilizing community tables that encourage collaborative workspace; using a mix of textures in floors, walls, and ceilings; and building flexibility into the floor plan by using modular components.

"Workspaces should flex to provide a variety of spaces and destinations for workers to inhabit that promote movement throughout the day," states Joan Blumenfeld, a principal at national design firm Perkins + Will in the Fast Company article.

Engineering and design firm Stantec hit all of those markers when creating its new space at Cook Inlet Region, Inc.'s (CIRI) Fireweed Business Center.

First Tenant

Stantec in January moved into the second floor of the new office building at 725 East Fireweed Lane, the location of the former Fireweed Theater. Stantec is CIRI's first tenant in the eight-story, 110,000-square-foot building. CIRI offices occupy the majority of the top three floors of the building.

Stantec, which merged in 2014 with USKH, was formerly located about seven blocks away at 2515 A Street. Jessica Cederberg, a senior architect with Stantec and the lead designer on the new office space, says the company wanted to stay in Midtown, but wanted to update its space.

"The Fireweed Business Center was raw space that we could design to reflect Stantec's standards, such as more opportunities for collaboration, promote healthy, active lifestyles, and [bring in more] natural daylight. The views of the six mountain ranges are an added bonus," Cederberg says.

Tim Vig, senior principal at Stantec, says moving is costly when including the cost of new furniture and the process of moving itself. But he's already seeing benefits.

"We've only been in the new space for a few weeks, and in that time we've seen people working together more and collaborating on their projects. The brighter and more modern space will also help us in recruiting and retaining the best talent as we work to grow our business," he says.

Smaller Is Better Here

Stantec spent two months in design and four months building its new office space, using Davis Constructors & Engineers, Inc. and a design/build process. Vig says the target move-in date never changed from the original plan set in fall 2015.

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Stantec's former office space was about 18,500 square feet. The CIRI building is about 5,000 square feet smaller, but it's all on one floor. That's important, Cederberg and Vig say.

"Being on a single, 13,500-square foot floor in the new space was an important factor in choosing this building," Vig says. "We wanted to avoid internal stairwells and not duplicate functions that are required when occupying multiple smaller floors."

Cederberg says the new space also has fewer corridors, copy rooms, and break rooms. In designing the space, she says she wanted to not only better utilize the square footage, but wanted to purposefully create "collision zones."

"These are spaces that encourage 'drive-by' meetings such as our new coffee bar with a cafe booth. One example of the value of these casual' meeting spaces is in the design of our rural school projects, which requires all disciplines to interact on a regular basis. Instead of only formal meetings, we have the ability to have a quick conversation about the project when we run into a colleague in the library or at the coffee bar," Cederberg says.

The company also took a step toward encouraging healthy, active lifestyles by providing shower facilities with small locker rooms, she says. The Fireweed Business Center is near the Chester Creek Trail, so employees can get out at lunchtime or use the trail to travel to and from work, for example.

The office space includes height-adjustable work surfaces, so an employee can stand or sit as they choose throughout the day. All interior partitions are kept to forty-two inches high to allow natural light to filter into the core of the office space. CIRI designed the building with dynamic windows that tint automatically to reduce glare and improve energy efficiency.

"The large windows that allow natural light into the space are one of the best features of the new space," Vig says. "Being able to control the amount of light by controlling the tint on the windows gives us the best of both worlds."

The few private offices in the space are located in the center of the building. Aside from the few enclosed offices, workstations are divided into work "neighborhoods," a modern alternative to fields of cubicles. Each neighborhood has a coat closet, collaboration table with built-in storage, and sound masking, Cederberg says.

"Our new space offers an open floor plan, which we believe will make our coordination much more efficient. It will truly benefit our employees and ultimately our clients," Vig says. "However, minimizing noise distractions in this space was important."

The company uses sound masking--or background white nose--to raise the level of ambient noise and thereby decrease awareness of distracting noises in the office environment.

Stantec also included two "private phone enclaves," small rooms with lounge seating and small tables, where employees can make a more private phone call. Small meeting rooms provide another privacy alternative for client meetings or team meetings.

Style and color are a part of any design, and Cederberg says she designed the space to be timeless and to reflect the company's talents. Stantec's corporate colors are orange and red, so while grey is a common color throughout the floor, chair backs, lounge areas, and other seating include pops of red, tangerine, and lime. The team included wood ceiling accents to reflect wood accents used in the lobby of the building and finished its locker rooms in identical tile and flooring to that used in the rest of the building.

"The design of the new office represents Stantec's image and brand, and it also represents the company's commitment to Anchorage and the communities we serve," says Vig. "We're including a 'legacy wall' of items like photographs and awards in the new space to help remind our staff and our clients of our past as we look forward to the future."

Design Fits Building Theme

Chad Nugent, CIRI's vice president of real estate, says as a landlord, CIRI generally stipulates design guidelines for office tenants. But since Stantec works in the design field, "we let them do their own work and just made sure it fit within that design," he says.

The company used Davis Constructors to do the construction needed. Davis also built the building, so sourcing items like doorknobs and flooring to match the rest of the building was simple. Nugent says the process of setting Stantec's offices up was pretty easy. That's not always the case, he says.

"Normally, when you build out a building, you give tenant allowances, as an owner. Everybody has an interest as far as what's happening in a building. If anyone in a building wants to modify the space, they have to come through us," he says. "It was nice to have a tenant that really understands the process."

Stantec worked with Capital Office to design the space and find quality office furniture to meet the company's needs. Devon Matricardi, a workplace consultant with Capital Office, worked on the project. She says while Stantec came to her with clear ideas and goals, Capital works with many clients who aren't naturally design-minded to come up with efficient floor plans and appealing office furniture.

Matricardi says Capital works to design office space with the client present, so the customer is part of the collaborative process. It cuts down on sending floor plans back and forth via email, she says.

Some key ideas the company touches on when talking with clients about office design include attracting and retaining employees by creating workspaces that people want to be part of and giving employees power and options, such as exchanging a private office for a more public office space that has better features. Real estate optimization, or getting the most out of a company's office space, is another key point when designing or redesigning an office, she says.

With the current trend toward open concept offices, Matricardi says team collaboration is a clear benefit, but her firm also works to include private spaces such as those Stantec uses--phone booths, small meeting rooms, and one-person work lounges designed to create a distractionfree, comfortable space for a single employee to work.

"There is that need for people to be able to do focused work in an open floorplan, but the savings and attraction of a younger workforce [through open-concept design] is better," Matricardi says.

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Rindi White is a freelance journalist living in Palmer.
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Title Annotation:CONSTRUCTION
Comment:Designing open concept offices in anchorage Stantec showcases interaction at CIRI's Fireweed Business Center.(CONSTRUCTION)
Author:White, Rindi
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Apr 1, 2016
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