It has become almost a cliché: Hire an architecture firm to transform a derelict former factory or warehouse into a fabulous new co-working space or artistic hub, watch young creatives move in and revive the local economy. But there is truth and often beauty in clichés: When done right, retrofits are extremely satisfying both to execute and experience. They are also among the most moral (yes, moral) forms of architecture that can be practiced on an overtaxed planet right now, providing new life to old infrastructure that might otherwise be demolished and discarded.
The talents at the integrated design firm mcCallumSather understand all this – so much so that they not only undertook the interior renovation of Westinghouse’s former headquarters in the Ontario city of Hamilton, but also moved into the revamped facility as its anchor tenant.
“We designed our workplace as a reflection of our entrepreneurial spirit, combining sustainability and heritage design within a neglected but iconic Hamilton building,” says Drew Hauser, director of the 47-person firm. “Using the latest sustainable technology and our experience in workplace design, we’ve created a modern space reflecting our understanding of how productivity and teamwork have evolved.”
Built in 1917, the seven-storey Westinghouse building in Hamilton’s gritty East End had sat empty since the 1980s, “deteriorating rapidly” over the subsequent decades. The team at mcCallumSather, which served as architects, mechanical engineers and heritage consultants on the entire 70,000-square-foot project, now occupy the second storey, which had been the president’s floor, a richly appointed space marked by hand-laid marble mosaic, striking terrazzo floors and exquisite plaster ceiling mouldings.
All of these features have been salvaged and restored, as has a series of monumental steel trusses that were uncovered during the removal of old walls and incorporated into the new workspace, serving as graphic rooms dividers.
“The imperfections of these elements have been left exposed, providing richness and paying tribute to the business leaders who once occupied this national headquarters,” say the architects. “The intent was to allow material authenticity and durability to shine, while juxtaposing them with modern systems and finishes to create a unique, open and agile workplace.”
In the firm’s new digs, there are no assigned seats: The office is split into zones offering maximum flexibility, each with varying workstations and touchdown areas equipped with sit/stand desks, task lighting, keyboard trays and dual monitors. At one end of the expansive, light-filled environment are collaborative zones where employees can discuss, debate and share ideas. At the other end sit the “quiet, focused zones” and a calming library space.
According to the firm, sustainable technologies and innovative processes have been used throughout the office. A vinyl wall graphic of a map of Hamilton, located by the reception desk, was designed and printed locally with no off-gassing during application, while a central dedicated outdoor air system that operates on-demand control ventilation plus daylight-sensor LED lights serves the entire space. “We utilized and enhanced natural light, retrofitting the building with energy-efficient operable windows to provide access to natural ventilation but still meeting heritage designation requirements,” says mcCallumSather, which is targeting LEED Platinum status for the project.
Beyond the interior transformation, the Westinghouse revamp is also providing a boost to its long-struggling neighbourhood, one of the poorest in the country. Some have declared that it’s “bringing the lights back to Barton,” the long arterial road that runs through central Hamilton and has seen better days.
“Our workspace tells a story,” says Joanne McCallum, CEO of mcCallumSather. “It has retained the grandeur of the time it was built, celebrating a piece of the past … while stepping into the future. Not only is the office designed to accommodate a collaborative and changing workspace, but further demonstrates that aesthetics and comfort do not need to be compromised while completing a green interior renovation in an existing heritage building.”
Or, one might add, a model of urban renewal worthy of emulation.
The former Westinghouse HQ is now an ultra-green office building poised for LEED Platinum status.