The trend of converting disused churches into private residences has been exhausted but little has been done by way of turning these former “sacred spaces” into civic or commercial venues. Leading the charge in this new adaptive reuse crusade is Balbek Bureau. The Kiev-based interior architecture firm recently completed 906 World Cultural Center, a multifunctional startup incubator, events space, and co-living concept that occupies a former church in the heart of San Francisco. The complex serves as a launchpad for the development of young companies, enabling them to live, work, socialize, develop, and communicate with like-minded entrepreneurs in a single space.
The core of this late Nineteenth-Century, Mission Revival bethel was re-equipped as an auditorium while its basement was refurbished as a workspace and makers lab. Salvaging and restoring the historic features of the listed Our Lady of Guadalupe church, the firm implemented a scheme that makes use of its dramatic nave and ambulatory alcoves. While the former plays host to a moveable seating and table system, the latter is used as series of lounges. Together, they set the stage for anything from film-screenings to hackathons.
Balbek Bureau’s considered approach did little to obstruct existing architectonic and decorative attributes but was also careful to mitigate overly religious themes. Rather, it’s kitted-in design strategically focused on accentuating the church’s ornamental charm and architectural geometry. A large monolithic podium/backdrop screen follows the same arched contour as the building’s curvilinear vault. By adding such monochromatic interventions, the firm was able to shift visual focus toward key characteristics: painted wall and ceiling frescos.
In order to partially conceal religious depictions in the church’s original stained glass windows, while still allowing daylight in, Balbek Bureau engineered a series of multi-dimensional, semi-translucent screens. A distinctive feature of these buffer walls is the absence of horizontal braces that prompts an interesting light refraction effect when placed in front of the multichromatic exposures. Three-years in the making, this project leaves no reliquary unturned.