To most people, it was a gas station in the quiet community of Nun's Island, just southeast of Montreal -- albeit an unusual-looking one. Outfitted with full-height glass walls, black steel columns and an imposing roof, this striking building was originally designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe -- a pioneering master of the modernist architecture movement -- for Standard Oil in 1968, before it was closed down in 2008.
How a gas station became a heritage building
Instead of demolishing it, the city of Montreal declared it a heritage building in 2009, launching a restoration campaign. Now completed, the robust structure -- which some have called "the most beautiful gas station in the world" -- has been re-adapted as a maison des générations, an apt term for a community and cultural center that serves youth and seniors.
Montreal architecture firm FABG was charged with the project, which included dismantling and restoring the corroded curtain wall, repointing the brickwork, repainting and the installation of a new geothermal system:
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. The new stainless steel gas pumps are in fact air in take and out take devices that are linked by underground ducts to the HVAC system. They replace the louvers that we would have had to install on the building and this solution contributes to the pre-cooling or heating of the fresh air admitted, the Canadian well effect.
The distinctive, long rows of fluorescent lighting was another aspect which was faithfully restored to its original aesthetic intent -- layered amongst the grid of roof beams, they emphasize the overriding unity of the long roof.
It's a gorgeous and smart example of adaptive re-use, as the greenest building is one that's already standing. And in a society where old and young people are often devalued and hidden away, this former gas station -- which now brings elders side-by-side with youngsters under the same, unifying roof -- offers a compelling, post-industrial statement about the new kind of society that we would do well to nurture.