It has been a transformative year for CannonDesign in Buffalo. The global design firm, founded in the Buffalo-area more than a century ago, left its Grand Island office of 30+ years last September, moved its 190 employees into temporary space downtown, and began designing a permanent new workplace at 50 Fountain Plaza.
Amidst all that, the company also named Bob Donahue its new regional Office Leader, continued to drive key dialogue through its Buffalo Urban Futures Forum, and is leading important projects across the city.
Next month, company employees will begin occupancy of its new 35,000 sq.ft. permanent space in 50 Fountain Plaza, the former Key Center complex. CannonDesign recently added its name to the top of the north tower. Buffalo Rising caught up with Donahue to learn more about what’s ahead for CannonDesign, design, the city and more.
Why the permanent move downtown and why now?
CannonDesign has been deeply and sincerely committed to the City of Buffalo for 100 years and counting. Moving downtown and back into the urban core better connects us to the city’s DNA. 50 Fountain Plaza puts us at the nexus of two important streets in the city: Main and Chippewa, right on the city’s transit line, and in the heart of Buffalo’s business and theater districts. We believe we can be even more of a positive force for the city’s future from this new location.
How has the pandemic affected CannonDesign. What percentage of employees are working from home and how is that working out for a collaboration-based business?
We were one of the first companies to go fully remote back in March and we were one of the first to reopen in July. I’ve been inspired by how our team has performed in Buffalo and nationally. We never saw productivity decrease, we’ve stayed together as a team, we’ve won new projects, and members of our team have helped make masks, donated services and more to help the Buffalo community.
Now that our physical Buffalo office has reopened, employees only come in if they feel comfortable. We have alternating days, with half-capacity. So, our teams are still very much hybrid, but we’re continuing to get work done and look forward to all being together in the office when it is safe. Right now, we have about 20 to 30 employees in the office any given day – with capacity for around 95.
What changes do you think the pandemic will bring to design? Is the future of office space dead?
The office is definitely not dead. We’ve collected and seen data that most people want to come back to the office once it is safe at least multiple days a week. I think you’ll see workplaces evolve a bit to better support hybrid teams (where team members are in all different locations: home, travel, office) and work from home will become even more normalized. But, people want to come to the office for collaboration, socialization, and wellness. That remains true.
Beyond the workplace, I think you’ll see renewed focus on designing for adaptability. Last March we all had to change so rapidly. Health systems needed more ICU, observation and triage spaces, drive-through testing facilities, while education needed to pivot to remote learning overnight. There are ways to design real estate to better support these rapid transitions. I think you’ll see increased investment in adaptable real estate moving forward and in the areas of allied health, where providers and educators can collaborate for the betterment of the community.
Do you think the new workplace will help in the recruitment of employees?
Yes, 100 percent. Being downtown in our temporary space for the past year already has helped us. People want to be downtown in the center of the city. You’re seeing that as more people of all ages move back to the city.
Our office location is perfect; we’re in the heart of the business district, surrounded by restaurants and entertainment options, right on the transit line. And, people can work in our Buffalo office and take on project work across the country through our national network of offices. It was never just about getting back downtown; it was about moving into the best position for our team and employees downtown.
What makes you proud of some of the current projects your office is leading?
We’re not just creating buildings, we’re creating community resources. Here’s just a few examples:
• The D’Youville Health Professions Hub (above), set to open first of next year, will improve our city’s West Side community with improved community access to healthcare services, new educational opportunities focused on breaking cycles of chronic illness, and prepare a workforce to seize in-demand healthcare jobs.
• 201 Ellicott will be a mixed-use affordable housing and fresh food market in downtown. Our city has long needed a project in its urban center with these components. It will also be one of the first “mobility hubs” in downtown Buffalo, providing residents and community with a place of alternative transportation opportunities and supporting the idea of vibrant, livable and walkable communities.
• ECMC’s new KeyBank Trauma and Emergency Department doubles the space of its predecessor and is the only Level 1 Adult Trauma and Emergency Department for the 1.5 million residents of Western New York. Physicians, nurses, EMTs and other care workers will see improved efficiency in the new space.
• One World Cafe at University of Buffalo (below) won’t just be a new place for students to eat and meet with friends on campus; it’s a key piece of how the university plans to foster new levels of multicultural engagement.
All of these projects, and there are more coming, give our team a ton of pride. We want to do exciting, impactful work that makes the City of Buffalo stronger for generations.
What makes you most excited in your new role?
It’s our office and our company’s commitment to innovation. We employ and work with incredible people who are inspired, driven and ready to change the communities we work and live in. Right now in our company, we’re not just looking at trends in architecture, we’re looking at how we can alleviate homelessness and food insecurity, how we can empower the next generation of students and researchers to create the jobs, industries and products of the future. It’s incredibly exciting work that excites our team of professionals in every way.
What’s your vision for CannonDesign’s future in Buffalo?
Smart growth. I anticipate our office growing in the years ahead through strategic local, regional and national project work and entirely new service lines. It also matters to me that we continue to design not just buildings, but environments that effectively and emotionally connect with users. We want to always be a positive change agent for the city and the surrounding area.
What kind of projects will you pursue and where?
Another thing that excites me is how diverse CannonDesign truly is as a firm. Yes, we have our core markets of health, education, science & technology, commercial, engineering and civic work, but we’re also leading hospitality, critical facilities, mixed-use and entertainment buildings.
Our services also continue to grow more diverse through facility optimization, consulting, graphics and branding. We’re able to deliver a full continuum of planning, design and construction services, and we will continue to do so across the Buffalo Niagara region, into Canada and neighboring US cities as we move forward.
Get Connected: CannonDesign, 716.773.6800