Flight Centre is taking its guests into uncharted territory with a new destination that brings together a rare mix of event, retail and work space.
“Any of the two can be combined, but the three all together is something we haven’t come across before,” said George Foussias, design director at Quadrangle.
The freshly fit out 10,000-square-foot space, located in downtown Toronto, showcases Flight Centre’s brands, which offer consumer and corporate travel services, as well as event management.
Called the Travel Centre, it provides customers with a single portal to the company’s full range of services and supports cross-brand communication between the employees who may engage them, said Punam Pathak, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Flight Centre. The space complements, rather than replaces, Flight Centre’s head office, which will soon relocate to McCaul Street from Yonge and Dundas streets.
“We were running out of space there and we needed to tell the [Flight Centre Travel Group] story,” said Pathak.
She said its current headquarters, replete with closed-door private offices, was ill-suited to this task.
“The southwest corner of King-Spadina seemed to be calling for us to start another journey and continue our story here because of its high vehicular and foot traffic,” said Pathak, adding, “in terms of putting our brand out there, it was a great opportunity for us to do that on this corner — it is one of the coolest parts of town.”
Guests coming in from the street are greeted by a statue of Flight Centre’s kitschy captain character.
The captain and the travel company’s trademark map will be familiar for people who have visited its other storefront locations, said Pathak. The space is designed to retain signature features such as these, while elevating the retail experience, she explained.
Visitors could be forgiven for momentarily daydreaming about boarding a plane to escape winter in the city as they approach a front desk that could easily double as an airport check-in and scan a digital board that could easily broadcast arrival and departure times. On closer inspection, the digital board actually broadcasts travel deals.
Beyond the retail storefront, which also functions as a reception, the space splits into two levels.
On the upper floor, the flexible event space contains island-like mini-destinations including a library and map room, which conjure faraway places. Carefully hand-picked artifacts, including books, globes and plane propellers, create scenes befitting globe-trotters from eras past.
“The idea of the explorer’s club, and the idea of the sense of travel and adventure, played nicely in a space that you don’t have to do everything to — you just have to show it off,” said Foussias.
The space, originally home to a garment factory and previously occupied by a cooking school, was stripped down to its brick-and-bream bones. Foussias flagged one notable exception to the minimalist intervention, marked as it is by wood floors, furniture and walls and washes of white paint.
Enclosed in glass and framed in black, the modern boardroom juts out at a slight angle at the top, providing a dynamic backdrop to the retail space.
“The jewel of the crown, the big boardroom, was meant to be an object, not a part of the built environment, so that’s why it looks different than everything else,” explained Foussias. “It was also designed to curate views from the outside in and from the inside out.”
This literal transparency reflected one of the travel company’s core values, said Pathak. However, at the same time, the design needed to balance transparency with privacy and security in bringing together event, retail and work space, added Foussias.
On the lower floor, a key-card system discretely restricts access to the work space to employees, many of whom divide their time between head office and the Travel Centre.
Flight Centre joins a growing number of organizations in making the move from a closed to open floor plan in the interest of promoting collaboration. Its 56 workstations are configured around a centrally located kitchen, which pairs a communal table with whimsical stools designed to look like champagne corks. Brand-based neighbourhoods are called out with colours and organized in pods of six, which support the way the travel company’s sales teams work.
Employees are also free to roam between the lower and upper floors. On the upper floor, oversized suitcases, turned on their sides, open up to reveal desks, which can be closed and either stacked for use as seating or wheeled away to clear the floor for events. Including informal work areas such as this, the space can accommodate up to 80 people.
In optimizing its real estate, Flight Centre has made a point to provide a variety of places for employees to find privacy, said Pathak, including two self-contained capsules off the kitchen that have their own air conditioning and power. The travel company’s commitment to giving employees access to windows — “the right to light,” as Pathak put it — and provision of sit-to-stand workstations align with current thinking on promoting wellness in the workplace.
“You [Flight Centre] were learning how to rebrand internally the way this environment works for people who work here,” Foussias recalled. “We were learning how to combine the programmatic elements … so it was a journey of discovery for all of us.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.