Canadian Architect

Feature

Building Net Worth

A co-working space brings fresh glamour and elegance to a historic bank building in Old Montreal.

June 12, 2017
by Olivier Vallerand

Private meeting rooms are set like jewel boxes behind the teller counters.

Private meeting rooms are set like jewel boxes behind the teller counters.

PROJECT Crew Collective, Montreal, Quebec
ARCHITECT Henri Cleinge, Architecte
TEXT Olivier Vallerand
PHOTOS Adrien Williams

Spurred by changing workplace trends, co-working environments have proliferated across cities in recent years. These multi-use spaces deploy strategies to support both individual and team work by freelancers and small companies. While they are often situated in adaptively reused industrial buildings, few consider historic preservation the way architect Henri Cleinge did for Crew Collective.

Crew—a startup tech company that brings together a network of freelance creative professionals—worked with the architect to create a co-working space and coffee shop in the main hall of Montreal’s former Royal Bank headquarters. Located in the Old Port, the neoclassical edifice was the British Empire’s tallest building when it was constructed in the late 1920s, when Montreal was the country’s financial capital. Cleinge faced the challenge of creating a dialogue with the opulent space—while also organizing a complex program that includes both secure and publicly accessible areas, without breaking the visual unity of the grand banking hall.

The grand entrance to Montreal’s former Royal Bank headquarters is retained in its renovation for startup Crew Collective.

The grand entrance to Montreal’s former Royal Bank headquarters is retained in its renovation for startup Crew Collective.

Both challenges are addressed by designing around the existing teller stands, which the building’s owner wanted to preserve. New meeting rooms are added behind and to either end of the stands, creating a U-shaped arrangement that separates the co-workers-only spaces from the public café. The barista counter sits parallel to the stands, masking views from the café to the co-working spaces, while maintaining some transparency.

In addition to private desks arranged in an open layout, meeting rooms of diverse sizes are available—some only for Crew members and others for anyone visiting. Groups of desks can be rented to people working as a team. A kitchen and more informal spaces complete the services offered to members.

The design fosters a similar experience to the coffee shop ambiance that many of these workers choose as an alternative to a traditional office environment. Crew’s approach to co-working is similar to other such organizations, in that it avoids closed-off spaces. Instead, it offers different working configurations that allow independent-minded millennials to meet with colleagues and clients in a relaxed setting throughout the day.

In the design of the meeting rooms, counters, tables and lamps, Cleinge uses a limited number of materials, inspired by the teller stands, to create a contemporary signature in harmony with the heritage setting. Glass, white granite, concrete, oak, and especially brass-plated steel dialogue with the existing décor, while creating a contemporary language that subtly contrasts with it.

Minimalist glass doors separate the members-only co-working area from the public café.

Minimalist glass doors separate the members-only co-working area from the public café.

Special attention was given to lighting, with Cleinge choosing and designing task lights that complement the mostly daylit space. The project was also an occasion for the building’s owner to clean and repair the existing chandeliers, as well as adding electricity outlets to the restored floor to power the café tables. Designed by Cleinge and fabricated locally, these tables are mobile, allowing for large events to take place, but also permitting future changes within the existing historic setting.

Heritage features including ornate cheque-writing counters were meticulously restored.

Heritage features including ornate cheque-writing counters were meticulously restored.

The overall result is very elegant, if perhaps somewhat too restrained. For instance, Cleinge sized the meeting rooms so that they would not be higher than the teller stands, foregoing a grander gesture that might have been more appropriate to the scale of the hall. However, the decision to keep signage to a minimum works well, as the grand staircase already invites visitors to discover the renewed hall.

Crew Collective exemplifies the new kinds of programs that are appearing as formalized “third places” in an increasingly cloud-based world. Distinguishing it from many of these spaces, it has done so by designing its physical environment with care. Its success lies in the clear identity that, in Cleinge’s words, conveys being new, while also remaining in harmony with the existing space.

While banks were never public spaces in the strictest sense, they were built with the financial means gathered from a broader society, and served as secular cathedrals to commerce in the economic heart of cities. In Montreal, their transformation into tech spaces and condominiums is rapidly changing the fabric of Old Montreal. Instead of closing off the banking hall, Crew reopens its doors, creating a community hub that is accessible well outside of regular business hours for the public, and 24/7 for its members. This refined design stands as an exemplar for transforming the symbols of old economic power into dynamic spaces for the contemporary creative economy.


Olivier Vallerand is an architect with 1x1x1 Creative Lab, and a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.

CLIENT CREW COLLECTIVE |ARCHITECT TEAM HENRI CLEINGE, PAULETTE TAILLEFER |MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL PAGEAU MOREL ET ASSOCIÉS INC. |CONTRACTOR GESTION GEORGES COULOMBE |AREA 12,000 FT2|BUDGET $750,000 |COMPLETION MAY 2016