The Royal Bank of Canada's historic Montreal headquarters was once the tallest skyscraper in the country, built in 1927. But the bank abandoned the grand space in 2010, leaving behind a decaying neoclassical masterpiece with 50-foot ceilings, brass chandeliers, and marble floors. (And to think, Montreal is now building stuff like this.)
"I think what's important for aging architecture is to bring it to life by having a new function. It's important not to treat the existing as if it were a museum," Cleinge told Co.Design. "The co-working program makes a lot of sense because it reflects a very current way of responding to today's working environment."
Much of Cleinge’s work in the space was actually just restoration and repair to the existing fixtures and finishes; and many of the building's elements were left more or less untouched. The bank’s old teller counters, for instance, serve to divide the cafe and work areas, but otherwise, don’t seem to serve any sort of new function. The co-working itself happens at newly added community tables, and within the biggest update to the old bank: several brass-plated conference rooms and quiet, personal rooms. "I don't know if it's a first," Cleinge says of these brass-plated cubicles, "but it made a lot of sense to create intimacy within the very large open area."
Indeed, these smaller rooms match the bank’s brass finish, but with contemporary glass construction, boldly juxtapose the neoclassical aesthetic. "For classical or old architecture to be brought to life, contemporary interventions are a must," says Cleinge. "It is important to be bold and simultaneously respectful."
And so far, it seems to be an approach that works. In fact, revitalizing historic architecture with co-working—a form of adaptive reuse—is emerging as a trend in many other cities, as well. Who would have thought the simplest way to save a decaying building might just be going to work in them again?
[Photos: Adrien Williams]