This article was originally published in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine as part of a series of three colourful workspaces in Ottawa.
By SARAH BROWN
“When you’re in this room, you experience a combination of space travel and time travel,” says Verval president Charles Armand Turpin as he shows off the wild boardroom he co-designed with Paul Kariouk of Kariouk Associates. “You don’t feel the time pass.”
With a few clicks of his control, the backlit walls and ceiling glow vibrant yellow. Another click, and yellow is replaced with lively red, followed quickly by soft daylight. For this interview, the full-wall screen in front of the boardroom table glows with a soothing nature scene.
The beauty of this room is that it can go from conventional to madcap, calm to chaotic, in the space of minutes. In other words, the boardroom morphs to suit the needs and moods of staff. Suddenly, says Turpin, “we don’t feel like we’re sitting down to work. We’re sitting down to have fun. It’s wondrous.”
Type of business: Building envelopes (exterior glass systems for large buildings)
Number of employees: 15 at the office, with 120-plus at other sites
Square footage: 500
Designer: Kariouk Associates
Cost: About $500,000
Timeline: June 2013–June 2014
What was the impetus for change?
The building was designed in 1974, so the boardroom was retro — so retro that it was almost back in style again.
What are the key elements of the new look?
Obviously the backlit walls and ceiling are the first things you notice. There is something like eight kilometres of wiring with LED lights under this rubbery membrane. I can go for natural, playful, or crazy with the push of a button. The boardroom table, which I designed with Paul [Kariouk], is the centrepiece. It’s curved and flowing. You can position yourself around it in different ways, depending on how many people are meeting and what you’re working on. The smaller table can be used as a coffee table or raised so that it fits with the main boardroom table.
How does the design match your company philosophy?
Variety is the spice of life. This room is both modern and ever-changing. In business, you have to be able to operate on the fly, and this boardroom lets us do that. I can change the tone instantly during a meeting just by changing the colours or the images on the screen. Sometimes we modify elements in the room if we’re having trouble coming up with a solution to a problem — change helps everyone refocus and look at things differently.
Does this workspace make employees more productive?
Of course. This boardroom is playful and fun. That makes everyone’s work more potent.
How do you justify such a big investment?
This is an investment in creativity. People use it to inspire their creativity and problem-solving. For me, the key to a great working environment is weeding out everything that’s not positive. This room has great energy. It gives everyone in it power — not from ego, but from the sense of confidence it provides.