Vice, the renegade media outlet has a new bureau in Toronto and it’s no surprise that its interior style flips the bird to the usual youth orientated workspace. Primary colours, slides and cereal bars were rejected in favour of a louche, moodily lit look – including a Bear Room that is intended to have the look and feel of a cigar lounge.
“Much of the brief was purely operational and technical. There was really no design brief from the client side other than to keep consistent with the office renovation that was happening in Brooklyn,” begins Allen Chan, partner and co-founder of DesignAgency (DA), referring to the media group’s new global headquarters in the New York neighbourhood.
The connections to Brooklyn don’t end there. Chan explains: “A friend of mine was working on that project, as the architect of record, and put Vice in contact with me about the Toronto expansion – and the rest is history, as they say.”
A decommissioned factory provides Vice with a base in which to accommodate its ever-growing workforce, which has ramped up fivefold in as many years, to around 300. Visitors entering Viceworld first encounter a wealth of roughly hewn surfaces, a steel and stone reception desk with a neon sign above, plus a raw concrete floor and brick walls. A reclaimed Persian rug and distressed leather sofa complete the look of insouciant rawness.
Directly beyond the reception is the saloon, complete with enough bourbons and whiskies in its tall walnut shelving to satisfy the modern day Mad Men (and women), as well as the usual hot drinks and water – they have meetings before the sun is over the yardarm too, the designers insist. Marble-topped tables are surrounded by vintage chairs.
“Open space is how they like working. They have a very open and collaborative work environment, where they encourage breakouts and informal meetings and collabs,” continues Chan. “It’s a very social atmosphere, where people can gather for work or some downtime.”
Pristine surfaces were not an option here – instead it’s the wear and tear and the patinas that emerge with use that were more appealing. The bar area here is topped with a zinc that distresses with use and the appearance of the marble develops as the Old Fashioneds flow. In this way the materials age, perhaps in a way the average age of the workforce most probably won’t.
While yoga and kale smoothies were off the menu, the technological trappings of the modern office had to be cleverly worked in by the designers. Vice is after all a multimedia empire producing print, online and TV. This office works hard to help it to be a multi-platform beast: the boardrooms, which are illuminated with customer lighting – the work of local designer hollis+morris – have cable channels that are cast into the concrete floor and run discreetly into the tables. The whole space is optimised for film-quality sound and lighting… heck, even the kitchen can be used for filmed demonstrations.
Speaking of beasts, the Bear Room takes its name from a typically Vice-like story. Legend has it a bear met its demise after a too close encounter with a Vice film crew; that animal was stuffed and now lives in the aforementioned Brooklyn HQ. The Toronto office may not have a stuffed bear, but the room has the same purpose: important meetings and interviews.
The Bear Room is elevated a foot from the rest, which helps optimise on-camera sightlines to the space beyond the window and makes this a really special place within the rest of the floorplate. Here the “liberal era of office culture” is heavily evoked in the finishes. Heavy-duty coffee tables made from sawn timber logs are combined with plush couches custom made in Ireland and an oxblood-coloured accent wall. The room has its own private minibar too.
Also separate from the open-plan setup are four executive suites, split into twin walnut-and-glass cubes that float down one side of the office and in doing so, separate the kitchen from the rest of the main space.
This office taps into the growing trend to give a homely feel to the workplace and, with this indefatigable workforce’s tight deadlines, perhaps it even serves as a surrogate home on occasion. Chan says: “Vice is an adaptation of that idea of making public spaces and workspaces more residential in scale and nature. Specifically Vice carries a bit of a brand look already, so we took that and ran with it, in our own way. We were lucky to find this great warehouse shell, so we tried hard to maintain a lot of that character throughout the space.”
There’s also a more grown-up feel to this workplace. “I think the era of the dotcom startup look – plywood and plywood on plywood – has even evolved. People are always looking to create branded environments that speak to the company’s culture and people have always been drawn to warm, richly textured environments. There’s a bit of irreverence, however, in the way Vice adopts this ‘grown-up look’ and that seems spot-on for their brand.”
Canada’s most populous city is having a moment in the style stakes too, it seems, with its Queen Street West area making it to the number two coolest neighbourhood, according to a Vogue poll from a few years back. Is it all down to rapper Drake, whose latest album Views is a homage to his home city, I enquire of Chan.“Who needs Drake when we have Queen West?!” he quips back.
DesignAgency gives Vice’s Toronto bureau a sophisticated look that reflects a new stage in the young media group’s global development