Planning an Office Building

G. B. VAN BLARICOM January 1 1910

Planning an Office Building

G. B. VAN BLARICOM January 1 1910

Planning an Office Building


SOME years ago a Chinaman, in an interview with a London newspaper, said that the main difference between the two races was that a Chinaman never knew what he was going to do next, while an Englishman always made his completed plans many months or years ahead.

This planning ahead is characteristic of the successful business men of to-day and in no direction is it more noticeable than in the erection of office buildings. The numerous fine structures going up in our Canadian cities at the present time are monuments to the foresight and careful attention to detail of Canadian business men. They are not the idea of a moment. They are the carefully thought out conception of years, and the time spent in erecting the buildings is really but a 102

small fraction of the actual time spent in working out the plans for them.

The story of the erection of the general office building of the Canadian General Electric Co. and the Canada Foundry Co. affords an interesting example of this noteworthy fact.

The building was completed in 1908, but it had its genesis five years before a sod was turned or a brick was laid. Mr. Frederic Nicholls, vice-president and general manager of both companies, believed in the policy of planning well ahead. He purchased the site on which the building now stands in 1903. Then he began gathering together ideas and data for the model office building, which should be erected on the site in due time. He was in no hurry, knowing that the Eternal City set on seven hills was not reared

in twenty-four hours. The old offices of the allied companies were ill lighted, badly ventilated and too limited as to space. Extensions were made from time to time but, at best, they were only a temporary expedient, and the result was unsatisfactory. Permanent remedy lay in a new building of which Mr. Nicholls thought, studied and projected until the object in view literally became part and parcel of the man himself.

Month after month he made an earnest, consistent effort to learn all that he could about building, building materials and supplies, styles of architecture and every modern invention and appliance. He consulted works of reference. He carefully scanned the advertising pages of magazines and trade publications. He read articles in engineering papers, architects’ journals and contracting publications. His interest in these problems was neither superficial nor curious. He resolved to master every detail. He wrote for catalogues, pictures, photographs, and plans. Read advertisements and folders, learning all that he could about

the durability, strength and economy of a mass of material, time and laborsaving practices and methods. Imbued with what he read, all

Imbued with what he read, all pointers or aids were carefully noted. Any announcements of a new material, or lighting, heating, roofing, or ventilation system, that he thought could be incorporated in the building for his companies were not cast aside, but were preserved and tabulated for future reference.

Men often see things, are impressed at the time and then forget all about them. These are recalled by advertisements and if Mr. Nicholls, in the strain and stress of managing large industries, overlooked any points that he read, numerous booklets and advertising literature recalled them. He followed everything to its legitimate conclusion, investigating its merits and learning from the experience of others. He took the heads of the various departments into his confidence and sought their co-operation and advice. They were asked to prepare a summary of their wants, the space they

required for their staffs, and to draft sketches.

The different branches went unitedly and heartily to work. Interest and attention were soon converted into ardour and enthusiasm. In these rough outlines they were requested to embody any suggestions that would tend to rapidity, comfort, convenience and freedom in work. When this had been done, frequent conferences were held and the fullest interchange of ideas and opinions took place. Naturally there were many alterations and revisions; for a \ear these conferences went on. Mr. Nicholls’ big business family took a personal pride in the proposition and were willing helpers, feeling that their welfare and wellbeing were one with the management. Harmoniously they labored, yielding a point here and gaining one there, but always with the one end in view— a head office building that would, in every respect, be a model and as near perfection as human means could devise.

At last order had been evolved out of chaos, and the system of evolution had proven so mutually satisfactory, that when the architects were invited to submit plans and specifications, it was known exactly what was wanted. There was a clear, definite conception in mind and, realizing just what was required, it was not difficult to procure it. Everything had been reduced to the minutest particulars in the way of materials, appointments, conveniences and facilities. Accurately apprised of the lines along which they were expected to proceed, it did not take the architects long to complete their work and call for tenders. The result of five years’ careful, conscientious planning and preparation was carried out on the principle, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead,” and today in the executive building are employed nearly two hundred persons, with not a dissatisfied one among the number as to office requirements or working quarters.

Asked, were he to erect another

building, if he could suggest any improvements that might be made on the present one, Mr. Nicholls said, “No, I could not. We have now occupied these quarters over a year and, so comprehensively was everything planned and executed by the architects, the contractors and ourselves, that we have not found it necessary or advisable to alter a single feature. For our needs the structure is perfect—down to the smallest details. Large an undertaking as it was, it was completed within the estimates. We did not have one cent of extras, and our facilities for handling goods are so admirable, that the saving effected has gone a long way toward paying the interest on the entire cost of the building. We ship and receive on an average about eight hundred packages a day, so that you may form some idea of the magnitude of the business done within these walls and the demands made upon the resources of the different departments. The place is lighted from every side. There is plenty of air circulation for our working force, the members of which are not cooped up in offices with partitions extending to the ceiling, and yet everything is private and quiet, no one department interfering with the work of another—all form-

ing, as it were, links in a chain. The outside organizations rendered great assistance to the inside staff, and I believe that for freedom, flexibility and easy communication, as well as economy and adaptation of space to the best possible advantage, not only for our own requirements but those of the public, there is not ground for fault-finding. We have put up a compact, commodious building of dignified appearance, more or less ornate, and at a moderate cost. It is so planned that three more storeys may be added as our business extends, so that we have taken into consideration ample accommodation for the future.” The experience of Mr. Nicholls is that of all business men who build on business principles. The office building of 1915 are simmering to-day in the brains of the industrial leaders of to-morrow. Every here and there will be found far-seeing young men, who are industriously filing away in the recesses of their minds or in the drawers of their filing cabinets, ideas and data, suggested by articles and advertisements, which will be put to good use years hence. Though their businesses may be small now, they have in them the makings of great things a decade 'hence.

'"T'T IS a mistaken notion that capital alone is necessary to succeed in business. If a man has head and hands suited to his business it will soon procure him capital. My observations through life satisfy me that at least nine-tenths of those most successful in business start in life without any reliance except upon their own heads and hands—hoe their own row from the jump.—John Freedley.