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Mies van der Rohe Gas Station Conversion

May 1, 2014
by Canadian Architect

PROJECT Conversion of Mies van der Rohe Gas Station, Verdun, Quebec
ARCHITECT Les Architectes FABG
PHOTOS Steve Montpetit

Nuns’ Island is part of the Hochelaga Archipelago located immediately southwest of Montreal. Its urbanization 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. The new community included three high-rise apartment buildings by Mies’s office and it led, in 1966, to a commission from Standard Oil to design a prototypical gas station. The station consisted of two distinct volumes, one for car servicing and the other for sales, with a central pump island covered by a low steel roof that unified the composition. The beams and columns were made of welded steel plates painted black that contrasted with the white enamelled steel deck and bare fluorescent tubes. 

Over the years, the interiors were modified to incorporate a car wash on the sales side; the finishes, built-in furniture and equipment were replaced and the custom-made pumps removed. It ceased commercial operation in 2008 and the City of Montreal listed it as a heritage building in 2009 before initiating the project for a youth and seniors’ activity centre. This simple program requires an open space for each group to congregate and participate in communal activities. 

The seniors’ group occupies the larger volume to the benefit of its 60 members who play bridge, prepare communal meals, dance or invite lecturers. Stacking chairs and tables allow multiple configurations of the room. The younger group occupies the smaller volume, and teenagers meet there daily to play games, listen to music, and organize parties and events under the supervision of educators.

The first architectural task was to meticulously restore the envelope of the building by dismantling and repairing the corroded curtain wall, repointing the brick work and repainting the structure. 

The second architectural task was to develop strategies for the new mechanical and electrical needs that would not affect the integrity of the heritage values. Solutions originating from the sustainable development field of research were chosen to achieve this goal. New geothermal wells under the asphalt around the building provide most of the energy required to operate the building, but they also radically diminish the size of the equipment required and eliminate the need for a cooling tower on the roof of the building. New stainless steel gas pumps are in fact air intake and outtake devices that are linked by underground ducts to the HVAC system. They replace the louvres that would otherwise have been installed on the building, and this solution contributes to the pre-cooling or heating of the fresh-air intake.

The third task was to emphasize the building’s inherent qualities and essential values. Formal unity and simplicity is enhanced by making everything black on the teenagers’ side, and white on the elders’ side. The strength of the roof as a unifying device is reinforced by using the same rhythm of linear fluorescent lighting in the interior spaces (T-5 tubes on dimmers). Transparency is achieved by completely opening the view from one end to the other on the long axis and by using low-iron glass. 

The project is not about the faithful restoration of a monument but an interpretation that attempts to communicate the essence of an artistic vision formulated by someone else in response to a world that is no longer the same. 

Jury This superb reinterpretation of Mies van der Rohe’s prototype gas station brings an end to years of relative neglect. The precise essential reinvention of this structure as a community space is quite beautiful, right down to the mechanical servicing that reprises the gas pumps of the original. One might imagine that Mies would be happily surprised. It is a restoration without being a slavish reconstruction. CA

Client Arrondissement de Verdun | Architect Team Éric Gauthier, Marc Paradis, Dominique Potvin, Jaime Lopez, Steve Montpetit | Structural/Mechanical/Electrical AECOM | Contractor Norgéreq | Area 3,625 ft2 | Budget $1.4 M | Completion September 2011




Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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