Canadian firm FABG Architects have renovated this Mies van der Rohe gas station on Nun's Island near Montreal in Canada for re-use as a community centre.
Nun’s Island is part of the Hochelaga archipelago located immediately southwest of Montreal, and the urbanisation of the area followed the opening of the Champlain bridge in 1962 under an ambitious master plan carried out by Metropolitan Structures, a real estate giant who had built numerous projects in Chicago with the collaboration of Mies van der Rohe.
This new community included three high rise apartment buildings by Mies office and it led, in 1966, to a commission from Standard Oil to design a prototypical gas station.
The station consists of two distinct volumes, one intended for car servicing and the other for sales, with a central pump island covered by a low steel roof that unifies the composition. The beams and columns were made of welded steel plates painted black that contrast with the white enamelled steel deck and bare fluorescent tubes.
Over the years, the interiors had been modified to incorporate a car wash on the sales side, and the finishes, built-in furniture and equipment had also been replaced and the custom made pumps removed.
Van der Rohe's gas station ceased to be commercially operated in 2008 and the city of Montreal listed it as a heritage building in 2009 before initiating the project of a youth and senior activity centre.
This simple program required an open space for each group to congregate and participate in communal activities. The senior group occupies the larger volume to the benefit of its sixty members who play bridge, prepare communal meals, dance or invite lecturers, and stacking chairs and tables allow multiple configurations of the room.
The younger group occupies the smaller volume. Teenagers meet there daily to play games, listen to music, organise parties and events under the supervision of educators.
The first architectural task for FABG was to meticulously restore the envelope of the building by dismantling and repairing the corroded curtain wall, and the second was to develop strategies for the new mechanical and electrical needs that would not affect the integrity of the heritage values.
"We chose to implement solutions originating from the sustainable development field of research to achieve this goal. The new geothermal wells under the asphalt around the building provide the major part of the energy required to operate the building, but they also radically diminish the size of the equipment and eliminate the need for a cooling tower on the roof of the building." say the office.
The new stainless steel gas pumps are in fact air intake and outlet devices that are linked by underground ducts to the HVAC system. They replace the louvers that would have had to have been installed on the building, and this solution contributes to the pre-cooling or heating of the fresh air admitted.
The third task was to 'radicalise' the building with the new interventions in order to emphasise its inherent qualities and the essential values that it embodies - with formal unity and simplicity enhanced by making everything black on the side the teenagers use and or white for the seniors area.
The strength of the roof as a unifying device has been reinforced by using the same rhythm of linear fluorescent lighting into the interior spaces, and transparency was augmented by entirely opening the view from one end to the other on the long axis using low-iron glass.
"The project is not about the faithful restoration of a monument." say FABG Architects.
"It is an interpretation trying to touch and communicate the essence of an artistic vision formulated by someone else in response to a world that is no longer the same. Musicians do this every day."
Photography Steve Montpetit.