The mandate from the newly formed Metropolitan Capital Bank to OWP/P, Chicago, looked fairly straightforward: convert a 92-year-old cluster of Arts & Crafts artist residences with historical landmark status into a modern-day "financial services studio."
Never mind that numerous review agencies—the National Register of Historic Places, the Chicago Landmarks Commission, the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, even the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.—would be looking over their shoulders.
Working with local contractor Bulley & Andrews on a design-led design-build basis, OWP/P was able to transform the 6,500-sf Tree Studio North Annex residences into a laid-back, high-end boutique bank in Chicago's ultra-hip River North neighborhood.
By retaining the skeleton, adding furnishings like area rugs and sofas, and wiring the infrastructure to support an office network and media display screens, OWP/P's team kept the homey buzz of the artist studios while creating an upscale banking environment.
"The design brings our historic landmark space into the 21st century," said bank CEO Michael Rose. "It very effectively preserves the traditional beauty of the past while harmoniously integrating the technology and conveniences of the present. They blend so well together—the best of history and high technology—that the space seems both ageless and timeless."
That's easy to say after the fact, but in the process of converting the artist lofts, the Building Team was blocked by the review agencies from altering many of the original details, such as the dining room cabinet and mirror in Rose's office. Undaunted, the team worked to blend these elements into the new design by carefully restoring paneled doors, intricate railings, and built-in cabinetry.
To add warmth to the commercial space, standard lighting from a previous rehab job was replaced with pendant fixtures. A 20-inch custom bench was added to the boardroom to serve as a sculptural element in the room.
Portable ramps were installed to make the building ADA-accessible. New pipes were put in below grade, since plumbing service had been cut off to half the building in previous renovations.
The review agencies were not always draconian in their rulings. For example, the Landmarks Commission did allow a commercial canopy over the entry to the bank and portal openings between the suites for better air circulation.
"The integrity of the project was the highlight," said judge Terry Krause, of Berglund Construction, Chicago. "The interior treatments were just striking, and they maintained a classic residential loft look while transforming it into a commercial space."