The National Bank of Canada’s 31,000-square-foot trading floor in Montreal, newly renovated by the local office of Architecture49, originally served as the banking hall of the Sun Life Assurance Company in its 1917 headquarters building. At the time, the Toronto architect Darling & Pearson had capped the space with an expansive skylight, and specified rose Tavernelle marble walls, midnight Syenite stone columns, and other grand materials to reflect the incoming sunshine and provide a counterpoint to it. Over the two decades following its opening, however, the historic building was expanded twice, cutting off the banking hall from a western exposure. Since then, too, a roof was constructed over the skylight and a dim, uneven lighting scheme had been inserted behind its glass. Opaque workplace dividers further blocked whatever light was available to the banking hall, which the National Bank began using for trading after it launched a securities division in 1987.
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According to Architecture49 senior principal Alexandre Sauvé, “The space was so gloomy that the National Bank was not even sure it could be transformed into a modern workspace. Most people wanted to move out.” Instead, in 2014, executives invited the firm to give them a reason to stay.
Sauvé says his design team carried out “a subtle intervention” that combines straightforward conservation of protected surfaces with historically respectful solutions. The skylight, which remains covered by a roof, received both treatments in this process. After it was cleaned and restored, Montreal-based lighting design studio Éclairage Public (now Ombrages) worked with manufacturer Lumenpulse Group to embed 4000K LED floodlights behind the skylight and point them at the underside of the roof to create an aura of daylight. Linear LED downlights also sandwiched between the glass and ceiling direct 3000K into the workspace. Together, Sauvé says, the luminaires produce all necessary functional lighting for the volume underneath. The architect adds that the installation’s cooler colors provide some contrast to the warm historic materials and gilded finishes, and that all replacement partitions are glazed. In this way, he explains, “We were able to diffuse the skylight illumination as well as the daylight from the east facade, and the space is full of energy now.”
Architecture49— Alexandre Sauvé, principal;
Alexandre Landry, design architect;
Nicoleta Dan-Ferenta, project manager;
Pierre Baillargeon, supervising architect;
Louis-Pierre Hubert, site supervisor
Ombrages (formerly Éclairage Public)
Bouthillette Parizeau (m/e);
National Bank of Canada
31,000 square feet