How Coca-Cola Put People First in New Toronto HQ

Caroline Hughes, a principal at Toronto-based interior design firm figure3, shares highlights from the design of Coca-Cola’s Toronto HQ. Said Hughes, “The opportunity to create a physical work environment fundamentally built around people was a unique one for our firm, and we set out to dream up a workplace that fit the bill.”
The building opened in April 2013.
Images courtesy of figure3 / Photography by Steve Tsai

Images courtesy of figure3 / Photography by Steve Tsai

In 2010, the Coca-Cola brand acquired the North American operations of Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Coca-Cola Canada was faced with the challenge of merging the newly consolidated business units into a single headquarters.

The company decided to abandon their offices in suburban Thorncliffe and move everyone to the heart of downtown Toronto – a bold choice, geared at attracting and retaining top talent to work for Coke. This required a unique real estate solution; it would have to be urban and in sync with Coca-Cola’s Live Positively global platform – a commitment to making a positive difference in the world by redesigning the way we work and live so that people and sustainability are integral.

The headquarters also needed to embody the brand’s promise of delivering happiness, which meant that a lightness and sense of playfulness would be incorporated into the design.

David Butler, Coca-Cola’s VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said that measuring the impact on people and the environment is just as important as top-line growth, so the new workplace had large shoes to fill. The space needed to speak to the promise of delivering happiness by telling the brand story and paying homage to Coca-Cola’s incredible legacy, while focusing on the people who make the company what it is today.

So what does a people-first design look like? From the studs to the ceilings, every single design element needed to answer two questions: Does this work for our people? Does it respect the environment?

The opportunity to create a physical work environment fundamentally built around people was a unique one for our firm, and we set out to dream up a workplace that fit the bill.

We created four strategic zones, each specially designed to speak to people-centric principles: Celebrate (social spaces), Engage (conferencing areas), Delight (experiential ‘brand’ spaces), and Centered (focused work spaces).

Celebrate is located at the base of a 3-story atrium in a sunlit grand hall that serves as breakout spaces and town hall area, with circular seating areas rooted by a giant corporate messaging screen. An informal employee cafeteria and outdoor terrace flank the space. Celebrate encourages conversation, laughter, and chance encounters.

We outfitted meeting rooms with conferencing tables and lounges surround the atrium – an Engaging zone for all employees and visitors to connect and collaborate.

Portals – brand-inspired corridors – are the Delight zones, drawing people from public to private spaces with bold and informative imagery depicting Coca-Cola’s global, local, and personal impact. The portals serve as decompression areas, separating the activity and buzz of the more public spaces from the quiet Centered zones of the workspaces on each floor.

The open areas feature internal private offices with glazed fronts and views of the Toronto skyline and lake for every single employee. The desking product is a non-panel solution that gives the open office environment a fresh, residential appeal in white and wood veneer finishes. The Centered zones are focused and minimalist but still invoke the brand’s sense of fun with Coke products and paraphernalia accenting the space.

We worked hand-in-hand with stakeholders to address the relocation of 400 employees, right-size the consolidated organization to eliminate redundancies, and develop a workspace design adaptable to accommodating changing needs.

Said Butler, “The Coca-Cola brand is about bringing happiness to people,” and now they have a space that embodies that people-first platform.

Headshot for Caroline Hughes

Caroline Hughes is a workplace design expert who is concerned with the long view – rather than assessing what is, she is focused on anticipating future needs in the workplace. Caroline is a Principal at figure3, a multi-disciplinary design firm in Toronto, and leads the focus on workplace strategy and experience-based design. Recent design projects include Coca-Cola Canada, Sun Life, TELUS, and TJX Canada.