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Change the Workspace, Change the Work

How Turner Construction helped a law firm reinvent its whole corporate culture in a unique new office

How Turner Construction helped a law firm reinvent its whole corporate culture in a unique new office

Miller Thomson faced a tremendous challenge: the law firm needed to vacate its existing space—a 30-year-old interior design over three floors that “functioned like a law office from the ’80s”—in eight months exactly, says managing partner Mike Walker. Its destination was a whole acre (50,000 square feet) on the fourth floor of a downtown Vancouver department store. The firm wanted a modern environment to inspire more collaborative work, instead of the traditional corner suites and halls of closed doors. The design and change management process—led by renowned architect Bill Dowzer and designer Marc Hine of BVN of Sydney, Australia—had consumed well over a year, and some lawyers were still concerned that the hybrid open-concept design would be too noisy for a law firm. But that resistance was minor compared to the obstacles Turner Construction faced in trying to manifest BVN’s creative designs into wood, concrete and glass in the time allowed.

The worksite was above Nordstrom, which would only allow Turner to drill four core holes through its ceiling for all wires and plumbing—a pretty tight fit for 145 lawyers and staff. As well, Sony Pictures Imageworks, the upstairs tenant, couldn’t have vibrations or noise interfering with film production. Finally, the building was surrounded by busy shopping streets and didn’t even have a service elevator.

It was a challenging opportunity for Turner Construction. Project manager Libby Rowe says everyone shared a problem-solving attitude. “We never say, ‘Can we really do this?'” says Rowe. “Only, ‘How can we make this work?’ We had a fantastic team of design consultants, subcontractors and a collaborating client who pulled together with the Turner team to solve the problems.” Rowe says Revit 3D modeling software was essential for maintaining the “risky but calculated” design philosophy. The tight time frame, budget and space restrictions meant there was no room for error—in many instances, literally less than five millimetres’ wiggle room for a six-metre beam. The 3D model, based on thousands of interior photos “stitched” together, was accurate enough to measure with, meaning most issues were solved before physical work began.

With measurements from the model, Turner accurately ordered prefabricated components months in advance. It layered structural, mechanical and electrical blueprints to reveal clashes, such as an air duct that would have cancelled the showpiece loft and presentation seating.
To overcome the four core-hole limit, Turner concealed all cables and plumbing beneath a raised access, or false floor.

Walker says the 3D virtual view also helped Miller Thomson staff get comfortable with a concept that hadn’t been tried in a Vancouver law office before. Firm members donned goggles fitted with a smartphone, connected to the software, and then slowly turned their bodies to see the space as it would be. “They were excited to try working in a different way.”

Now in the space for two months, Walker says, “The best part is hundreds of linear feet of windows with nothing blocking them. You can see everything.” The subdued buzz arising from colleagues working in the open space is evidence that the new interior encourages more interaction without too much volume.

Turner Construction prides itself on making fresh design work for clients, on tackling challenging projects, and on figuring out how to manage the risks to make the design a reality.