155 Water Street Designing While Honouring the Legacy of Heritage Buildings

Honouring the Legacy of Heritage Buildings


Designing While Honouring the Legacy of Heritage Buildings

Retrofit Renovation - Designing While Honouring the Legacy of Heritage Buildings - 155 Water Street Vancouver

Architectural heritage reflects a community’s collective past. How do we renovate and retrofit interiors for our contemporary needs while protecting and honouring historic authenticity?

Interior alterations in retrofits and renovations are often necessary to improve a heritage property’s energy efficiency, minimise deterioration, or change its function in adaptive reuse endeavours. Working on such buildings undoubtedly poses challenges, and the role of the interior designer is epitomised in the strategic and sympathetic ways that they approach them.

The designer’s role in protecting heritage

In our hometown of Vancouver, certain designated sites are protected by the Heritage Bylaw. Neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Gastown, Shaughnessy, and Yaletown exude their charm and maintain their area character largely in part thanks to this bylaw. The exterior — or certain portions — of classified properties cannot undergo alterations without heritage alteration permits. Most countries and cities have similar legislation in place. These can help design professionals, developers, and homeowners set the degree of their alterations.

Interiors, however, are more often than not exempt from heritage protection laws. It is up to the designer and the client to choose whether to renovate, refurbish, or retrofit.

Renovations and restoration of heritage interiors can be a challenge. Many people hold the view that “old is gold” when it comes to design-related fields. Unfortunately, that saying doesn’t always hold true in interior design and architecture, and each case is entirely unique depending on a range of factors, from the original structural integrity to the level of care maintained over the years. Additionally, these buildings have been around for a long time and have likely witnessed multiple tenancies — which means frequent floor plan changes and disparate features scattered throughout.

Much like the exterior facade, the interior of a heritage building is a testament to a collective past and designers retained to work on such properties are faced with the predicament of choosing what to restore and what to renovate. Structural interventions can be necessary to adapt an interior to contemporary needs and standards, so these decisions are not easy to make.

Celebrating and complementing the remnants

A building’s legacy can live on in the features that have remained intact — or perhaps, simply covered — over the decades. These are likely to be the wallcoverings, flooring, and structural elements like beams and columns. Celebrating heritage can be a matter of exposing and emphasising the remnants to show them off, while keeping the impact on their original state minimal.

At MCM Interiors, we view heritage projects as exciting challenges that grant us a privileged role in the historic layering of the corresponding neighbourhood. Moreover, minimising the use of new materials allows us to take part in a circular economy.

At the offices of an animation studio in a Yaletown heritage building in Vancouver, we honoured the historic fabric of the building by retaining exposed ceilings, wood beams, columns, and masonry brick walls.

155 Water Street Designing While Honouring the Legacy of Heritage Buildings 2

When it comes to furnishings, some designers might choose to source antique or reproduction furniture to complete the setting. The results vary from one case to another, but an entire replica “period aesthetic” can often seem forced and out of place. 

To create a coherent identity at the Yaletown heritage building, we chose to complement the older features with traditional wall panelling, millwork, and furniture sourced from a network of local artisans.

A designer’s role isn’t to imitate, but rather, to make way for continual evolution and allow amalgamations to unfold. When executed properly, the old and the new can coexist and create fascinating interior settings. 

Explore more of our projects, including various heritage renovations, here

Enjoyed reading this article? Follow us on LinkedIn for more insights.





Living Wall Systems Interior Design

Crucial Living Wall System Design Considerations


Crucial Living Wall System Design Considerations 

Living Wall Systems Interior Design

The greening system has so many benefits and is one of the most attractive forms of vertical gardening, but it’s certainly a demanding commitment.

Ah, the Pinterest phenomenon that is the living wall. Large-scale works of art and gardens all in one, these monumental walls of greenery dramatically transform indoor and outdoor spaces alike.

Living walls are definitely some of the most worthwhile biophilic endeavours, but there are key considerations to keep in mind before proceeding with their installation.

There’s a time and a place

Much like gardens, living walls are a commitment that requires close care — but unlike gardens, their whole ecosystem is based on a highly artificial environment with delicate settings such as grow lighting and irrigation. The setup and maintenance of that environment is a significant commitment to take on in terms of both time and cost.

“The only thing worse than a blank wall is a dead living wall,” says MCM Interiors Associate Designer Nick Desert. It’s a valid point: the upkeep of living walls is absolutely no easy feat and when poorly managed, can actually be damaging to the space at hand.

Before integrating living walls into our designs at MCM Interiors, we gather a comprehensive understanding of our clients’ landscaping capabilities, resources, and budgets. We also carefully study their everyday processes in our early design process stages, working to ensure that they’re ready for the work and cost that these living walls may require — and that their teams are able to incorporate living wall landscaping into their regularly scheduled maintenance work.

To limit any surprises, we suggest engaging operations teams early on in the process.

The multifold benefits of living wall systems

It is our belief that the benefits of living walls make the work and costs involved worthwhile. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Wellbeing: It’s no secret that humans have an innate affinity for nature, and studies have shown time and time again that plants have a significant effect on wellbeing. For those who live in urban cities, the importance of biophilic features in interior design is of paramount importance.
  • Passive thermal management: Thermally speaking, living walls can be excellent passive cooling or heating systems. They can reduce energy consumption bills while also cutting down a structure’s environmental footprint. A study published in Building and Environment in 2022 showed that the calculated thermal transmission value of space with a living wall was 31.4% lower than one without.
  • Air purification: Living walls can absorb airborne toxins including formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform, and ammonia. NASA’s Clean Air Study from 1989 continues to be a useful reference in identifying plant species that have superior air filtration properties.
  • Creativity: There are a lot of opportunities to get creative, and much like art — living walls are an excellent way to activate walls. In lobby design, green walls can even be a canvas for branding. The placement of living walls behind the reception desk is especially striking — certainly an uplifting way to welcome visitors.
  • Acoustics: According to a study published in Applied Acoustics, living walls allowed for a weighted sound reduction index of 15 dB and a sound absorption coefficient of 0.40. This surprising acoustic consideration can be incredibly advantageous whether across the workplace, hospitality, healthcare, retail, or even residential.
  • Biodiversity: Much like green roofs, living walls can support local urban biodiversity initiatives when installed outdoors.

Exciting biophilic alternatives

For those unable to maintain living wall systems, a host of other vertical greening systems is out there ready to be explored. The stabilized moss or lichen wall — which features lichen that is preserved and “locked” into its vibrancy — is a remarkably low-maintenance alternative. It also allows ample room for creativity; because preserved moss does not grow, virtually any desired design is set in place.

At Samsung’s offices in Vancouver, we brought energy to the lobby and welcoming area by angling a lichen wall in a cheeky interplay with the entrance logo.

Living Wall Systems Interior Design Workplace

Another alternative is the use of artificial living walls, but this is a route we don’t typically suggest taking because many of the benefits discussed above, like passive thermal control and air purification, are lost.

At MCM Interiors, we’ve integrated living walls into projects that include shopping malls, office complexes, and much more. Explore some of them here.

Enjoyed reading this article? Follow us on LinkedIn for more insights.


Is the Reception Desk an Antiquated Idea?


Is the Reception Desk an Antiquated Idea?

The role of the reception desk, once a key consideration in the floor plans of most client-facing spaces, has diminished over the past decade in response to the rise of self-service tech as well as our changing needs. 

In an effort to tap into contemporary design trends and reduce overhead costs, our hotel and workplace clients often ask us if its presence is necessary at all in a lobby’s interior design. Our answer tends to be somewhere along the lines of “yes and no.” 

Towards a hybrid model

It’s not an either-or situation between kiosks and receptionists. Check-in kiosks tend to be useful in streamlining processes and can significantly assist teams, but the key word here is assist. While technology and all its impressive developments can lend a helping hand for methodological tasks, ultimately, human needs aren’t scripted. Personal interactions are likely to be needed at one point or another.

A hybrid approach where kiosks are installed and team members are on alert can be a strategic way to reap the best of both worlds. 

Besides, receptionists allow for the human connection in a tech-saturated world and businesses that focus on providing experiential stays — such as hotels and resorts — should reflect on whether screens and automation can ever suffice in truly providing guests a memorable getaway. 

Formality, security, and boundaries

One of our workplace clients wanted to skip the reception desk for a more contemporary look and feel, but, upon noticing that tech couldn’t fulfill the role of the receptionist nor uphold the needed security standards, requested that we retrofit it in post-project completion.  

The reception desk has so many functions; in fact, much more than we realize. One that is implied is its role as a boundary; its placement acts as a marker for areas that are restricted versus those that are open, and for larger firms, this periphery is often essential for security. And much like the desk is a boundary, the receptionist often acts as a secondary guard.

These security protocols and precautions might not be needed for smaller teams. The mere presence of a reception desk can actually be “off-brand” for some. We’re seeing more and more startups skip the desk entirely, instead opting to have meeting hosts manage the visitor welcome process themselves. For teams that value a flat hierarchy, this choice can be a way to communicate a welcoming work culture. 

And on the other side of the coin: traditional companies — like law firms — often view the reception desk as a fundamental feature that is in line with their formal, legacy-oriented corporate branding. 

Crafting a sculptural, multifunctional focal point  

For businesses that aren’t entirely sure if they’ll have the reception desk staffed at all times — or that only need it for events such as conferences — treating it as a sculptural piece can be an clever way to allocate the floor space for ad hoc needs without tarnishing the overall look of the lobby. With this strategy, the lack of personnel isn’t noticeable when the desk is empty. It’s a worthwhile consideration: an unserviced desk makes it seem like someone isn’t attending to their job, and that eventually reflects poorly on the company.  For the Vancouver Centre 2 office tower, a project focused on bringing West Coast Contemporary design to the workplace, we designed the front desk so that it doubles as a large-scale wooden sculpture, creating a dramatic statement wall. All the while, we were faithful to the nature-forward spirit of the concept by approaching the desk as a biophilic feature in wood.

For a more discrete aesthetic, a technique worth exploring is the camouflaging of the reception desk with floor-to-desk or wall-to-desk continuity, achieved by seamlessly blending materials or colour finishes.

Multifunctionality aside, the reception desk is a focal point in the lobby and helps shape the first impression for visitors entering the premises. All the more reason to approach it as a high-priority, bespoke area.

Evolved form, evolved function 

With contemporary design trends and the cost-saving allure of tech, will the reception desk — once a lobby staple — face a fate similar to that of the cubicle? 

We’ve designed dozens of hotel and office lobbies at MCM Interiors over the past five years. 90% of those have included a reception desk. Form and function have certainly evolved over the past decade, but the trusty reception desk has continued to prove its value. 

While smaller businesses and startups can get away without one, larger firms and hotels are likely to need the reception desk for reasons like security and quality customer support. Companies that aren’t entirely sure if they’ll always have team members available can treat it as a multifunctional piece of furniture that is ready to be staffed when needed.  

Evaluating whether or not you’ll need a front desk at your business premises? Ask yourself which of these tasks you’re ready to either relinquish entirely or hand over to kiosks:

  • Welcoming and greeting
  • Check-in and visitor management 
  • Customer support  
  • Security
  • Mail handling 
  • The “human experience”

Interior design trends are exciting and drastically help shape innovation across industries. But it’s important to reflect on whether they’re appropriate for the space at hand. Forcing a reception desk-free vision on an organizational structure that can’t accommodate it results in awkward foot traffic, expensive retrofits, and compromised security. 

From the looks of it, the reception desk will be sticking around!

Enjoyed reading this article? Follow us on LinkedIn for more insights from the MCM Interiors team, and continue discovering our projects here.