Sionas Architecture designs for residential and commercial properties and has extensive experience working on adaptive reuse and green and environmentally conscious real estate projects.THE VIBE
Upscale, green and heavenly
THE COOL FACTOR
Hillside Square complex in downtown Montclair was originally built in 1926 as a Christian Science Church. But, by 2010, the once-flourishing church membership had declined so significantly that the cost of keeping up the property became unaffordable.
“When the church decided to sell the building, they looked for a developer who would care about the building and care about them,” said Paul Sionas, owner of the architectural firm responsible for designing the project. They sold to the Bravitas Group Inc., a Montclair-based developer that specializes in sustainable building practices.
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From the exterior, the building still looks like a grand church. But inside is a LEED-certified office building, referring to U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, with 20,000 square feet of professional space. What was once a sloping sanctuary is now home to two floors of offices that house a variety of small businesses, from IT consultants to psychotherapists. The third floor, formerly an attic space filled with a tangle of steel support trusses, has been re-engineered to serve as an industrial-style loft office space.
Sionas Architecture is not only the firm that designed the conversion, but it also is a tenant. Inside its space, a large wooden door has been fabricated from two old church doors and a 20-foot walnut arch that was once part of the altar now stands along the back wall.
The firm preserved many of the original architectural details, such as marble columns, pastel glass windows and barreled ceilings.
Sionas also found ways to repurpose other items from the church. The pews have either been redesigned into bench seating and reset into tenants’ waiting rooms or donated to churches in Haiti. The elaborate wrought iron pendants and wall sconces that once lit the church have been retrofitted for LED light bulbs. Parts of the pipe organ were used to create suite and directory signage. Roof boards have been converted into conference tables.
The offices are examples of adaptive reuse, a practice of renovating and reusing old buildings for a new purpose that is considered friendly to both green design and smart growth. The building has recycled flooring. The landscaping was done with indigenous plants and bollard lights were used in the parking lot to reduce light pollution.
Today, the First Church of Christ, Science leases a small portion of the building on the first floor.
THE BUSINESS CASE
“People want to come and work here,” Sionas said. “Besides being a really cool place to work, we used all healthy building materials. We have bike racks and showers. Having a healthy place to come to every day makes a difference for people.”