Posts tagged with "Montreal":

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Canadian Centre for Architecture director Mirko Zardini steps down

The director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture for the past 14 years, Mirko Zardini, will step down at the end of the year, and Giovanna Borasi will take his place starting in January. Borasi is chief curator at the CCA, and she has been a curator at the Montreal-based institution since 2005. Zardini led the CCA through a crucial period of growth and change. The CCA was founded in 1979 by the architect Phyllis Lambert with a desire to provoke—a masthead on their website quotes Lambert as saying “We’re not a museum that puts things out and says, ‘This is architecture.’ We try to make people think.” As its director, Zardini made crucial moves to fulfill Lambert's mission, including the ambitious use of the CCA's archives and exhibition spaces, enabling a vibrant research program, and launching an online platform that makes the CCA's resources widely available. Donations to the archives during Zardini's tenure include those of Kenneth Frampton, Pierre Jeanneret, Abalos Herreros, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Alessandro Poli, Umberto Riva, Álvaro Siza Vieira, and Anthony Vidler. Donations of works by architects included Zaha Hadid, Greg Lynn, Foreign Office Architects, and UnStudio. Recent exhibitions such as The Other Architect (2015-16) and three shows in the Archaeology of the Digital series (2013-16) have been international in scope and focused on challenging models of architectural practice. Zardini has positioned the CCA as a crucial node in conversations about architecture and the urban realm. In an interview with AN, Zardini deflected questions about the "highlights" of his time at the CCA: "I like to think of what we produce as critical tools," he said, not singular exhibitions or publications. He emphasized the CCA's success in focusing on environmental issues, the effects of increasing global multicultural processes, the question of combining large-scale planning with button-up building, and reflections on technology. Zardini said that he hopes the CCA "will not be judged for any single exhibition or publication, but for the discourse it has produced through the years." He added that he likes that the CCA is "mature enough as an institution to speak in a collective voice." This is "not easy," he says, because "as an institution, you have to build your own public." He concluded that his achievement as a director has been in "the kind of friction we have created at the CCA – we have maintained the institution in a critical position." The appointment of Borasi is based on a conviction that Zardini's time as director was a success. In a statement, CCA Board Chair and Toronto-based architect Bruce Kuwabara emphasized that the CCA will continue to build on its current direction. Borasi was involved from the beginning of when Zardini became director, and indeed before. After curating and collaborating on exhibitions in Milan and working as an editor of Lotus International, Borasi worked closely with Zardini on exhibitions in Italy and then at the CCA. They seem to think alike. One of Borasi's current projects involves the creation of three short documentary films, the first of which, What it takes to Make a Home, will focus on homelessness. It will premier at the Architecture and Design Film Festival in New York in October 2019. This type of experimentation with media, modes of discourse, and challenging topics related to the built environment embodies the essence of the CCA's approach to architecture. Speaking about her upcoming directorship and Zardini, Borasi said in an interview that she "shares his vision. He pushed the idea from Phyllis that architecture is not just about building, but about ideas." Borasi emphasized their shared belief that architecture "needs to have an impact at large" by constantly asking "What are the issues that architects should discuss today?" She said that it is the responsibility of an institution such as the CCA to "ask the questions that no one wants to ask. This means that the CCA "is not neutral. Architecture that is committed, not self-referential, is the architecture I am interested in." Zardini was quick to emphasize how he has benefitted from collaboration at the CCA. Lambert's support has been crucial, he said, as has collaboration with Borasi. He mentioned the help of several others at the CCA and outside, including strong advice from Peter Eisenman that the CCA should be proactive and take risks in the use of its resources. Pressed to offer advice, Zardini opined that "many other institutions are too confident of the traditional role that they have. In this moment, rather than being reassuring, institutions need to be provocative;" they should become "public intellectual figures." Zardini spoke against the pressures of the current neoliberal moment: "Rather than thinking of architects as part of large corporations, I would rather think of architects operating with a more community-oriented strategy or in public organizations." Asked what he will do next, Zardini mentioned that he has "never had a chance to take a sabbatical." He said that he "never aspired to become 'director' of anything," that he is "not a director by career," and he even mentioned wryly that did not apply for the directorship of the CCA, but was persuaded to take it by Lambert. Zardini plans to spend time in Europe and begin work on new research – to "create a new baggage of ideas to work with in the future." Among his last projects at the CCA will be a publication of essays from the past 15 years, which is due out in spring 2020. What will remain to be seen is whether Zardini's departure and Borasi's appointment will mark the end of an era for the CCA or the continuation of an approach that seems to have worked.
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L.A. practice Warren Garrett opens a sensuous Montreal atelier

For Marie-Eve Warren, cofounder of boutique firm Warren Garrett, setting up a Montreal atelier earlier this year meant returning home to her native town. She and partner Jeremy Garrett established their interior architecture practice in Los Angeles in 2003. Espousing a refined and harmonious style, the duo made a name for themselves by completing a number of high-end residential projects for Hollywood stars and professional athletes. With extensive travel experience and backgrounds in the creative environments of film, television, and fashion, they were able to infuse their approach with influences derived from international trends, cultures, and lifestyles. Tapping into Montreal's growing prominence on the international design stage but also its strategic geographic position—placing the firm is closer proximity to its projects in Europe, Africa, and North America—Warren Garrett chose the Quebecois city to open a second atelier outpost. “Montreal is an architecturally-rich, sophisticated metropolis that has managed to maintain a sense of small-town warmth and charm,” says Garrett. “It is also experiencing movement towards new high-end real estate developments and luxury environments, and our goal is to offer our insight and expertise in that arena, which has been our practice’s core-focus since our inception. We want to integrate into that movement and to help it strike a balance. Montreal is a stable platform for growth and creativity, with a hyper-creative subconscious and a plethora of inspirational individuals." Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
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BlazysGérard imbues Montreal's Dandy restaurant with arched elegance

Local interior design firm BlazysGérard has converted a former insurance office into Montreal's latest breakfast and lunch hotspot Dandy; celebrated chef Michael Tozzi first venture out on his own. The monumental restaurant balances an unpretentious atmosphere with a touch of class; achieved through the running theme of arches and circular elements. The design practice identified this design motif in the space's large pre-existing, street-facing windows and carried through the implementation of structural details, bespoke pendant lamps, and oversized mirrors. The enfilade-esque restaurant incorporates all of its dining tables, chairs, and banquets in one central two-row volume with a sequence of mobile-like, two-prong, arch-shaped lamps running above; that evoke structural room-diving archways on either side. Altogether, this scheme cuts an impressive profile. But however bold in geometric expression the concept might be, Dandy's design is intended to act as an unimposing backdrop canvas for its clientele. Read the full story on our interiors and design site, aninteriormag.com.
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Lambert & Fils launches its new Corridor gallery space in Montreal

Young Montreal lighting brand Lambert & Fils has gained recognition in the past few years with a series of blockbuster lighting collections that have broken away from the norms that have stagnated the lighting industry in the past few years. Notable designs include the airport-inspired Dorval series, developed with French studio SCMP. The boutique design house has also developed a series of lauded private and retail interiors. Building on this success, Lambert & Fils has just opened a new exhibition annex adjacent to its office and workshop. Located in the heart of Montreal, Corridor promises to become a new space for cultural exchange. The gallery will feature art and design, and will explore where these often-siloed disciplines intersect. To launch the new space, Lambert & Fils tapped Swiss designer Adrien Rovero to create a special, temporary installation. The Feu de Camp mise-en-scene draws inspiration from Rovero's short time in the boy scouts but also from Montreal’s long and cold winters. The installation incorporates various geometric forms, flashlight-inspired fixtures, and simple industrial materials—green tubes, elastics, electrical wires, and semi-spherical glass diffusers—loosely in the form of a campfire as a way to bring people together during the dreary late-winter season. The installation is arranged around a central node with 12 low-lying lamps surrounding in a circle. These elements were used sparingly to compose a playful yet technically-refined setup, and Rovero also created a wall mural that illustrates this peculiar typology in his unique assemblage-inspired aesthetic. Though this inaugural installation closes tomorrow, Corridor will open the new Studio Edition exhibition—a group show featuring work by emerging Canadian designers—in the coming months.
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Moshe Safdie's personal Habitat 67 unit gets upgraded and restored

Safdie Architects has officially completed a two-year-long restoration of Moshe Safdie’s personal unit at Habitat 67, a landmark apartment complex designed by a young Safdie himself for Montreal. The project was done in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the seminal structure. Safdie’s light-filled duplex unit is located on the 10th floor of the 238,500-square-foot brutalist building and overlooks the Saint Lawrence River and downtown Montreal. The careful restoration of the prefabricated piece of architecture has been a serious undertaking. Safdie Architects worked to bring the entire facility into the 21st century by upgrading its technical systems to modern sustainability and energy conservation standards. They also stripped the exterior concrete walls that showed severe signs of decades-long water damage in order to repair, insulate, and waterproof the envelope from the harsh Canadian winters.   For the interior of Safdie’s apartment, the design team restored the space to its original 1960s condition. They repaired the wood parquet flooring, installed new windows, and restored the sliding patio doors that retract into the concrete walls. The wood-slatted terraces were revamped to include the clear polycarbonate railings found on the original structure. The bathrooms, outfitted with molded fiber glasses, were also rehabilitated, along with the fixtures and fittings. The kitchen was completely restored as well. Now in mint condition, the unit will be dedicated to the public realm as a resource for research and tours as Safdie Architects continues an ongoing restoration of the building’s envelope.
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Montreal to begin construction on massive automated light rail

After years of deliberation, Montreal’s regional light rail has been given the go-ahead to begin engineering and construction. Reseau Express Metropolitain (REM) is a fully automated, $5.3 billion light rail project consisting of 26 stations spread out over an approximately 40-mile electrified network. Upon completion, the REM will be the fourth largest automated light rail line in the world after Singapore, Dubai, and Vancouver. NouvLR General Partnership, which includes multinational engineering firms SNC-Lavalin and AECOM, is leading the construction and future operations of the network. The architecture and design of the future stations result from a collaboration between award-winning firms, Perkins+Will, Lemay, and Bisson Fortin. As reported by the Global Construction Review, the new light rail network will establish a comprehensive rapid transport link between downtown Montreal, the international Aeroport-Montreal Trudeau, and the suburban areas of South Shore, West Island, and North Shore. The four branches of the REM will consist of surface-level, underground and overhead routes, serviced by an initial fleet of 240 cars. The 26 stations will have 260-foot platforms, universal access facilities, and a number of intermodal connections to the city’s bus and commuter rail networks. Although REM will be a network independent of the Montreal Metro, the city’s existing public transit system, the two bodies will share four stations within the city’s center. With Greater Montreal boasting a population of over four million, the seamless integration of regional rail with local rapid transit has the capacity to dramatically boost economic growth within the city. The CDPQ estimates that REM could attract $4 billion in private real-estate investment and reduce congestion-related costs by $1.5 billion. Construction is slated to begin in April 2018, with an expected completion date of 2021. However, there are significant hurdles to overcome before construction begins, such as making the necessary land purchases. According to Business Insider, CDPQ will consult local communities and host urban planning competitions to insure that initiatives surrounding the new stations integrate into their neighborhoods and support local residents. Funding for the project derives from a mix of government entities and state corporations. CDPQ Infra will provide $2.35 billion as well as cover any cost overruns, the Governments of Quebec and Canada will provide $1 billion each, the public utility corporation Hydro Quebec will contribute $230 million, and the Montreal Transit Corporation will chip in $405 million. The REM is not the only ambitious infrastructure project undertaken in Canada recently. On December 17, Toronto opened the largest expansion of its subway system in decades. Although Toronto’s 5.3-mile extension of its subway network falls under the purview of the municipal Toronto Transit Commission, it similarly ties the urban core to the suburban periphery.
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Arbora housing complex in Montreal points to the future of timber construction

This is an article from our special November timber issue. Comprising three eight-story buildings totaling just shy of 600,000 square feet, the Arbora Complex near downtown Montreal is one of the largest mass timber projects in the world. The notability of this project is not just its size, but its ability to be a competitive, marketable, environmentally responsible alternative to increasingly affordable steel and concrete construction—an ability we might not associate with mass timber structures. The $130 million project offers 434 units, 130 of which are rental. According to U.S. Market Development Manager Jean-Marc Dubois at Nordic, a Quebec-based company that, among other services, supplied wood for the project, “The market in Montreal is more suppressed than Vancouver and Toronto. To be able to build means you must have a design that is viable and efficient—something that brings value to the developer. There’s a lot of press surrounding high-rise wood construction, but Arbora shows there’s a place for affordable, viable mid-rise construction.” Arbora involves cross-laminated timber (CLT), composed of layers of dimensional lumber stacked perpendicularly and glued together to create structural panels. CLT panels are typically made of layers of three, five, or seven, and, because they offer two-way span capabilities, can be used for floors, walls, and roofs. The result is a material that is lightweight, strong (up to seven times the strength of concrete), efficiently shipped, and less labor-intensive than its steel and concrete counterparts.
“With mass timber structures, you can use less employees and get more work done,” said Dubois. “There’s a shortage of skilled labor across North America, so the fact that you can raise structures with considerably less skilled employees is very critical. Typically we operate with as few as four to six tradespeople on a jobsite. The output per person is much greater.” These benefits come with a cost, however: increased upfront coordination and design time. Engineered wood components are designed, optimized, cut to millimeter precision, and then shipped to site for assembly. Dubois reports that Nordic is involved on multiple fronts of mass timber projects like Arbora, coordinating design, engineering, fabrication, construction sequencing, and regulatory parameters. “This is one of the things that distinguishes Nordic,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of involvement and engagement with our team that you don’t necessarily see as you’re looking at the construction process. We’re taking an active role in the design process, in addition to sitting in meetings with local authorities.” The key to Arbora’s commercial success in a competitive housing market is design efficiency, and an acknowledgement of the inherent structural properties of CLT from the outset of a project. “There are efficiency gains in replication,” Dubois said. The project was organized around a 20-foot grid, an ideal structural span and shipping dimension for the beams and panels. The consistency of the grid allowed an efficient manufacturing process, and abbreviated on-site assembly time. Early adopters of CLT in North America have tended to be more custom projects like schools and sports venues, but Dubois sees demand for mass timber shifting into commercial real estate, namely office workplace typologies, where the unique look of a wood structure can offer differentiation in the marketplace. Mass timber adoption in the United States has lagged behind that in Canadian markets. Dubois attributes this to a number of factors including the litigious nature of the United States, and the tendency of Canadian authorities to be receptive to performance-based design. “In Quebec, we don’t promote one building material over another, so we have to make a market against steel and concrete, which is exceedingly inexpensive,” he said. “We have to be economically viable and prove we are meeting the same structural and safety requirements that other systems must abide by. “Performance-based design typically runs into more red tape in the United States,” he continued. “I think it’s a fear of the unknown. This has led the American Wood Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the wood industry to promote the tall wood agenda, to try and get coded options so that it is prescriptive as opposed to alternative means and methods.”
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How mass timber could transform our cities (really)

This is a preview of our special November timber issue. Mass timber is having its Maison Dom-Ino moment. At the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, a curious structure sat on the grass near the international pavilion in the Giardini. It was an engineered timber version of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino, the seminal, prototypical reinforced concrete project, which was celebrating its 100th birthday. As a manifesto of sorts for modernism, the original Maison Dom-
Ino sent shockwaves through the 
architecture world and the built environment at large. It was a replicable, scalable building system made from simple columns and floor slabs, which could be stacked vertically and horizontally like dominoes. The 2014 version was commissioned by Brett Steele, then dean at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. He described the “afterlife” of the 1914 Dom-Ino as “a set of guiding, abstract, and idealized principles” that have shaped the world as we know it today. The choice of timber in this case is an interesting one, as mass timber seems to be today’s material that looks promising for the future, much like steel and concrete did in the 20th century. As outlined in this issue, timber has a litany of benefits including carbon sequestration, lower embodied energy than steel and concrete, psychological benefits for inhabitants, less construction noise in tight urban sites, easier on-site construction in general, and many other positive aspects. It would reorient wood from light-frame suburban development toward mid-rise dense urban development. Taller and taller timber towers serve as the “Eiffel Tower” moments for the rapidly expanding timber industry, as pointed out by Jimmy Stamp in the Smithsonian Magazine article, "Is Timber the Future of Urban Construction?" And these important projects have brought attention to an otherwise niche building trade. Alongside these "Wow!" projects, there is another, less sexy side of the timber revolution that could help to change the way we build in America. New technologies abroad are already making mid-rise construction cheaper and more viable at larger scales. This incremental progress is taking place among manufacturers, architects, engineers, and designers as we speak in places like the nearly 600,000-square-foot Arbora complex in Montreal, Quebec. And companies, such as Nordic Engineered Wood, are expanding in the U.S. market, a place known for innovation that makes things cheaper and more market-ready. Once the market can produce mass timber structures more cheaply than steel and concrete, there could be a seismic shift. And as timber becomes more viable for safety concerns, and more legal through local codes adapting ("The State of the Art of Timber"), we could see timber proliferate at the same rate as the early-20th century saw the Maison Dom-Ino’s system spread across the world over the next 100 years. But of course we are speculating a bit in this issue. The future is not so clear. A fight is brewing in Congress ("What Wood You Do?") over the bipartisan Timber Innovation Act (and along with it, lobbying antics from the steel, concrete, and sand industries). If U.S. governmental agencies and private companies—namely manufacturers—come together, the costs could come down. It is possible that architectural knowledge-research and development could bend the markets so as to impact both economic and environmental resource allocation networks toward a lower-carbon future, as architect and timber expert Alan Organschi told AN in a conversation. The arms race is already on, and the National Forest Service has awarded $250,000 to Boston-based IKD to develop a hardwood-based cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is an important incremental step in the process. This issue speculates on a future where entire blocks might be built with green technologies including mass timber, and whole cities could be filled with beautiful wood buildings layered onto the stone, brick, steel, glass, and concrete urban fabric. How this revolution might play out is unclear, but we are seeing glimpses of what might be to come, such as Framework by LEVER Architecture in Portland, which will be the tallest timber building in the U.S., or the work of Michael Green Architecture in Vancouver, or Gray Organschi Architecture out of New Haven, Connecticut, which has been researching mass timber at the Yale School of Architecture. We also look to Europe and Canada for success stories that might be examples for the future of mass timber in the U.S. As Steele said of his 2014 Maison Dom-Ino, “This initial installation will remind visitors not only of modern architecture's most foundational project, but of an architectural instinct made even more apparent today than it was at the time of its original conception; namely that architecture always operates in the space created by a contrast between architecture as already known, and what it might yet become.” Can we imagine a partially wooden future? This article will be updated with links to other articles from the November timber issue.
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North America's largest healthcare project completes phase one

The first phase in the construction of three-million-square-foot Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) created by CannonDesign and Montreal-based NEUF architect(e)s is now complete. Located in the heart of Montreal, the new campus is the first new hospital built in the city in 30 years and is the largest public-private healthcare partnership in Canadian history. In order to get the hospital up and running as fast as possible, phase one of the project focused on healthcare spaces. These include the 772 patient rooms, the operating theaters, and the diagnostic and therapeutic spaces. Phase two will build out the administrative offices, a conference center, more ambulatory spaces, and additional parking. “Walking through the completed spaces today, we feel a spatial quality that is in line with the ambitions of this great institution,” explained Azad Chichmanian, partner and architect with NEUF architect(e)s in a press release. “As the public finally begins to discover the architectural moments that have been created, from the inviting, light-filled public spaces to the state-of-the-art clinical facilities, we believe the building will succeed in completely redefining Montrealers’ image of what a hospital feels like.” CHUM covers two full city blocks, making it an important urban fixture in the city. Designed to be the anchor of Quartier de la Santé, Montreal’s new healthcare district, the entire complex was conceived to mend a large gap in the city’s fabric. The project’s large footprint included the historic structure of a 145-year-old abandoned church. While much of the church was demolished for the construction, its impressive steeple, along with the facade of a neighboring gray-stone mansion, were integrated into the overall design. Along with a number of indoor and outdoor public spaces, the campus will eventually include 13 large-scale public art pieces. Before the first phase was completed, the project was recognized and shortlisted for multiple awards. Some of those include awards for healthcare design, facade design and engineering.The second phase of the project is expected to be complete in 2021.
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Habitat 67 made into commemorative stamp as building turns 50

Today precisely marks the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 in Montreal, the renowned world's fair that captured the creative spirit of late 20th-century architecture and design. To commemorate the occasion, Canada Post and architect Moshe Safdie unveiled a stamp which features the image of Habitat 67, the experimental urban housing project that was built for expo’s living exhibition. Since 1967, the model community has become an icon of Canadian identity and was officially designated as a National Heritage Site. This, however, is not the first time that Habitat 67 has made its way into the realm of memorabilia. Back in 2012 it won and online competition to be manufactured as a LEGO replica set, though to the dismay of its fans, production of the miniatures never materialized. The stamp is the first in a series of ten that celebrate the sesquicentennial (150-year) anniversary of Canada. The event also coincides with Habitat ‘67 vers l’avenir / The Shape of Things to Come an exhibition of Safdie's work at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Centre de Design, on view from June 1 to August 13, 2017. 
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Phyllis Lambert looks back on her 75 years in architecture

For the occasion of her 90th birthday on January 24, architect Phyllis Lambert sent the following text about her life and career—from her early days as a sculptor to her work as a photographer, preservationist, and patron. It is taken from the exhibition Phyllis Lambert: 75 Years At Work, on view until April 9 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.

1 / Beginnings

Art has always been for me the essence of existence.

A sculptor from the age of nine, at eleven I began exhibiting in annual juried exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Société des Sculpteurs du Canada. My sculpture teacher instilled in me objective self-criticism, and I learned manual skills and close observation. I have always drawn. As an undergraduate at Vassar College, in addition to studying art history, in the studio I focused on painting, intrigued by technique, especially that of Rubens (although this is not evident in the self-portrait). However, I was not interested in making small works for private collections. I dreamed of creating monumental sculpture in the public realm: Architecture would be the answer, but I did not know this yet.

2 / Seagram Building

With extraordinary good fortune five years out of college, and while studying the history of architecture at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, I became involved in my father’s decision to erect an office building for Joseph E. Seagram & Sons in New York City. In 1954, living and painting on my own in Paris, I received a proposal from him to which I responded in an eight-page, closely spaced typed letter beginning with one word repeated very emphatically: No No No No No. I concluded, “You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live... You have a great responsibility.” For me the new building had to be a wonderful place to be, to work, for people passing by on the street, for buildings around it, for the neighborhood, for the city, for the world.

With a mandate to select the architect, after six weeks visiting architects in their offices everyone was talking in terms of Mies. There was the aura and generosity of the man, the gentle power of his architecture. I chose Mies.

With the title of director of planning, my job, as I saw it, was to assure that Mies could build the project he envisioned. His beautifully proportioned bronze-clad building rose straight, set back from the street on its half-acre plaza. Seagram changed New York. After 1961, the New York City zoning code introduced incentive zoning to encourage open plazas at ground level by permitting developers extra floor space. Plazas appeared everywhere.

At the turn of the century, in The New York Times Magazine, Herbert Muschamp declared Seagram to be his choice for the millennium’s most important building, bringing the fusion of gothic and classical elements “in a supremely elegant whole.” “The business of civilization is to hold opposites together,” he wrote. “That goal, often reached through conflict, has been rendered here by Mies with a serenity unsurpassed in modern times.”

Contemporary artworks and those we commissioned were publicly accessible in the great spaces of the Four Seasons restaurant designed by Philip Johnson, and strategies were established for changing installations of sculpture on the plaza. It is also essential to note that high standards of documented maintenance have conserved the Seagram building’s exceptional value.

3 / Architecture School

Following four years immersed in the process of designing and building Seagram, in 1958 I entered the Yale School of Architecture. After a few semesters I found that Mies’s school at the Illinois Institute of Technology offered what I wanted to learn—the careful craft and consequences of putting materials together. Mies’s most brilliant student, Myron Goldsmith, was my lieber-meister. Our graduate class designed hangars for the new 747 airplanes. My master’s thesis, “A Study of Long-Span Concrete Roof Structures,” was written under the supervision of Goldsmith and the innovative structural engineer Fazlur Khan. Myron liked to say that I never did anything with this investigation; however, the work extended and intensified my predisposition for gathering information in the field, first-hand. 

With this proclivity and my passionate interest in the city, seizing on President Lyndon Johnson’s new anti-poverty “Model Cities Program,” I volunteered with Antonis Tritsis—a PhD student in urban planning who would later become minister of planning in Greece—to work on changing the city of Chicago’s plan to replace Bronzeville, a notoriously deteriorated neighborhood rich in Black cultural history, with new high-rise “ghettos.” The city ultimately designated Bronzeville as an area of “Conservation and Rehabilitation.” The experience proved to be an invaluable training ground for my work with community groups in Montreal.

Seagram was always on my mind. While in Chicago I made a scheme for Seagram East, and I also worked with the director of the mayor’s office of Midtown Planning and Development in New York City on the possibilities of transferring Seagram’s unused air rights in order to remove future pressure to build on the Seagram plaza. The present owner of the Seagram building has recently transferred the air rights to the adjacent site facing Lexington Avenue that he purchased, where he is now erecting a very tall tower.

4A / Projects: Saidye Bronfman Centre

After I obtained my master’s degree in 1963, my family commissioned me to design an arts center in Montreal to be known as the Saidye Bronfman Centre of the YM-YWHA, in honor of our mother. Fazlur Khan urged me to experiment with precast concrete; however, I wanted the personal experience of designing a Miesian structure. My intention was to connect building and community, so that people inside would be conscious of the landscape and of the people outside, and those outside would be aware of the activities inside. I especially loved the theater’s great seating shell, which is seen in the photographs. Unhappily, it was demolished in order to increase the number of seats.

Commuting to Montreal from my office in Chicago, I reconnected with the city I had left twenty years earlier and became aware of the unique architectural quality of its neighborhoods of greystone buildings.

4B / Projects: Photographic Missions

Greystone. A theory class in city planning at IIT raised my desire to tangibly understand city building. Photographing the greystone buildings of Montreal was a way to do so. I had worked with a 35mm camera to investigate structure and environment, but to avoid distortion and to obtain a high level of resolution I asked Richard Pare, a young Englishman studying photography in Chicago, to join me with a view camera.

Among the possible ways of analyzing city fabric, the focus on a material of construction provides insight into a wide range of topics. This approach would be impossible in cities like Paris or Jerusalem, where all buildings are faced with local stone. However, in Montreal, the North American city with the greatest number and concentration of stone construction, such focus is revelatory. At first pragmatic, Montreal gray limestone buildings came to hold special symbolic value. In the 17th and 18th centuries, thick stone walls provided protection against attack, against fire, against the cold. Eventually they became prestigious markers of status.

Observation of the architectural language of these buildings—which includes how the stone is cut and surfaced and laid, building location and siting—indicates not only the dates of construction, but also their ethnic, religious, political, economic, and social contexts, coupled with the aspirations of their owners and builders. Sectors possessing buildings with various combinations of these characteristics differentiate the territorial divisions of the city, which still correspond to the seigneurial system of land tenure established during the French regime.

Photographing greystone buildings (1972–1974) brought me back to Montreal to fight against urban demolition and heightened my desire to undertake more photographic missions.

Courthouse: A Photographic Document (1978), edited by Richard Pare, was initiated by me for the United States Bicentennial. Rather than photographing many buildings of one material and many functions contained in one city, this photographic mission investigated a single building type as it spread across the continent and the change in a nation’s view of itself. The county courthouse registers basic human transactions, but above all it embodies the rule of law, a fundamental component of American democracy. Wolf von Eckardt, in The Washington Post (May 20, 1978) found it to be equally as important as the Seagram Building as it “acquaints us with the richness and ingenuity of our own indigenous architecture.”

Similarly, under my direction, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) commissioned photographers to investigate other concepts relating to human settlement. Clara Gutsche and David Miller made the images of An Industrial Landscape Observed: The Lachine Canal (1992), a publication and an exhibition that traveled in the Montreal region, to raise awareness of the extraordinary spaces of 19th-century structures that were being abandoned but could be repurposed—as many have since. Viewing Olmsted (1996) is the work of three photographers of different generations and practices whom the CCA commissioned to investigate Frederick Law Olmsted’s design of landscape in different ecologies in all seasons. The project extended over seven years. The CCA continues to commission photographers as well as filmmakers in relation to exhibitions and publications.

5A / Conservation and Restoration: Montreal

Photographing in Montreal in the early 1970s brought me into contact with architects who felt an urgent need for Montrealers to know about the city’s overlooked buildings and unobserved history. Each contributor wrote a chapter for Exploring Montreal; my chapter is titled “The River Edges.” At the same time, Richard Pare and I focused with tripod and camera on greystone structures, passersby commented, “Why that building? It’s old, it will be demolished.”

The demolition of the Van Horne mansion on Sherbrooke Street in 1973 ignited twenty-three citizen groups to form Sauvons Montréal. In 1975, Héritage Montréal raised funds so that conservation groups could take action in order to give a face to each building, like family portraits. Our tools to stop demolition included marching in the streets, publishing ads and booklets, working with residents, and ultimately working with a whole neighborhood and the Federal government to establish Canada’s largest not-for-profit cooperative housing renovation, Milton-Parc. Also known as the McGill ghetto, Milton-Parc was exemplary; community values were asserted; no one was evicted, and families could continue to live in security in the downtown, without risk of gentrification.

Investment in renovating low- to medium-income neighborhoods is as important as the conservation of monuments or building anew. Since 1997 the Fonds d’investissement Montréal (FIM), which I head, has brought private sector investment to the urgent need for communitarian housing beyond the limits of government programs.

5B / Conservation and Restoration: Abroad

In the mid-seventies, along with urban guerrilla activities in Montreal, and distressed by wanton demolition in other cities and less-than-thoughtful real estate development, I formed a firm as architect and developer with Gene Summers (then partner-in-charge at C. F. Murphy Associates in Chicago and formerly Mies van der Rohe’s major assistant). We were convinced it was possible to vastly improve the quality of life in cities and also to be financially successful. We proved this in pioneering the renovation of a major hotel property, the 1,000-room Los Angeles Biltmore, which was slated for demolition. Built in 1921 in connection with the rise of the era of the automobile, the renovated hotel re-established its prominence and encouraged rebirth of part of the old downtown.

My work in conservation and renovation led the president of the World Jewish Congress, in connection with the Camp David Accords, to ask me to study the conditions, and then to take the steps needed to substantiate an interfaith religious center in Egypt. The very presence of the three monotheistic religions in close proximity in Old Cairo—the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the surrounding Coptic and Marianite churches within the fourth-century Roman fortifications, with the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As, the first mosque erected in Egypt, close by—offered the necessary context. The synagogue had been abandoned since the Six Day War: Were it to fall into ruin, the evidence of the cohabitation of the three religions would have been lost to history. Furthermore, its symbolic message was urgently needed. Conservation of the synagogue (whose foundations, we discovered, date from the 11th century) and its precinct was complicated and fascinating, but for me it was indispensable above all to document the process and to undertake and publish archaeological and historical research on the synagogue, for this was the only way to substantiate the existence of this cohabitation.

6 / Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA): Idea and Design

More was needed to make architecture a public concern. Much more. Everyone seems to know something about painting, sculpture, and films, but not about architecture. Architecture frames our daily lives; it creates the medium in which we grow and learn, and live. Yet as an art form and social structure its language is mostly unknown. Clearly, architecture is unequivocally a public concern.

It was crucial to establish a place where the many aspects of creating the built world could be discussed, a new type of cultural institution, with the specific aim of increasing public awareness of the role of architecture in contemporary society and promoting scholarly research in the field. An international and interrelated collection composed of prints, drawings, photographs, architectural archives, and books would support research and induce knowledge and debate generated through publications, exhibitions, seminars, and other programs. Such places existed only in part. I discussed creating such a place with art historian and museum director Daniel Robbins and asked him to undertake a study of the mission, collections, operations, and staffing of institutions with related programs, whether library or museum or research center.   

Slowly and in stages the collection was formed in temporary quarters in New York and Montreal. Our activities tested conservation, operational requirements, and programming for the design of a purpose-built institution. Finally the Shaughnessy House (which was built in 1874 and I had acquired in 1974 to stop the wave of demolition in the city—and it was then classified as a heritage building) and new construction would accommodate the CCA that I planned. In the fall of 1983, Peter Rose and I began to discuss qualities of light and air needed to enjoy and yet protect the works of art on paper of which the collection is largely composed. We tried many ways of relating the mansion and the much larger new structure. We wished to make the new building and the restored Shaughnessy House an inspiring place to be, for those who work there, those who engage in research, and those viewing exhibitions or consulting the collection. Construction began in May 1985; the building opened to the public in May 1989; Melvin Charney’s sculpture garden, which is part of the Quebec government’s program for the integration of art and architecture, was dedicated a year later.

The mandate for the CCA building and Mel Charney’s garden was to repair the damage to the urban fabric caused by mid-century in-town-highway engineering. The intention for the garden, like the intentions for the research center and museum, was to initiate dialogue between architecture, nature, and the urban fabric, and to relate architecture’s past and present, evoking its future.

7 / CCA Explorations

The CCA was conceived and designed to fulfill several functions: to collect (as a museum and research library); to archive and document (conservation and curation); to support research (a study center); and to conceptualize and broadcast knowledge (exhibitions and publications). In the early years after opening, we discovered ways of presenting ideas about architecture. I have selected a few exhibitions that have represented our purposes and provided a sense of the broad range of our collection as well as the research involved in their presentation.

Our first exhibition and publication, Photography and Architecture: 1839–1939, not only showed the CCA’s unique collection for the first time, but also established the subject, bringing together these two arts when they were beginning to be recognized as art forms in their own right, and their artifacts purposefully collected. The exhibition traveled to Cologne, Paris, New York, and Ottawa from 1982 to 1984, even before the design for the CCA building had begun.

In 1989, its building complete, the CCA held its opening exhibition, Architecture and its Image: Four Centuries of Architectural Representation. It was designed to present works from our collection cutting across media, period, and place while also providing an in-depth look into the nature of architectural representation and insight into the purposes of the CCA. The exhibition emphasized the fact that architectural artifacts are not actual buildings, but evidence of the study and critical thought inherent in their creation.

The Pantheon: Symbol of Revolution, also exhibited in our inaugural year, demonstrated that a number of related works, of different mediums, different dates, acquired at different times, from different sources, can provoke new research and interpretation when held by one institution. At the CCA, drawings, prints, books, and various printed documents and manuscripts show key aspects of the creation of Soufflot’s church Sainte-Geneviève for Louis XV and its transformation to the Panthéon, temple of the great men of France during the French Revolution. Soufflot’s classical church revolutionized French ecclesiastical architecture. However, his use of columns, rather than massive piers, to support a heavy dome caused structural problems threatening its stability. The collection holds numerous documents from the early 19th century studied by famous architects and engineers to stabilize the building. Other documents relate to desacralization of the church during the French Revolution, and the changes made in order to create an atmosphere commensurate with the Panthéon, in which the illustrious dead of the nation are buried. After its return to worship in 1822 under the restoration of the monarchy (indicated by a pediment design by Baltard), the church’s vocation as the Panthéon, a civic monument, was finally and definitively reasserted with the funeral of Victor Hugo in 1885.

Opening the Gates of Eighteenth-Century Montreal was the first of a series of exhibitions over the years, in which the CCA explored unknown histories of Montreal. A decade of unprecedented research on the walled town was based on extensive archival material on land holding and building contracts, together with volumes on civil law and other primary sources, undertaken by the Groupe de recherche sur Montréal, which I had formed. The exhibition and book focus on the interrelationships of three key elements of Montreal’s urban form over a century and a half: the fortifications; the ownership, distribution, and use of property within the fortifications; and the character of buildings. For the exhibition, the CCA borrowed extraordinary, essentially unknown artifacts from museums and archives in France, Ottawa, Quebec, and Montreal, and, in its first venture in the use of the digital, created interactive databases to reconstruct aspects of the town and its defences through which visitors could navigate the streets of Montreal three hundred years ago.

In the years approaching the 100th anniversary of Mies van der Rohe’s birth, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, based on its holdings, planned the exhibition and publication Mies in Berlin, and the CCA, based on its holdings, planned Mies in America. Mies had declared in 1955, “My kind of architecture they should just call a structural approach,” but his work in America was not understood. Closely studying his drawings at MoMA and the CCA, I set out to learn how, after 1939, in the heartland of industrial America, step by step, Mies moved from the romantic poetics of his German years to the poetics of a rational, structural architecture. Mies commented on the difference between the way we think about and use the word structure. In the English language, he said, everything is a structure. In Europe it is not so. A shack is called a shack and not a structure. “By structure we had a philosophical idea. The structure is the whole from top to bottom, to the last detail—with the same ideas.” In addition to exhibiting drawings and models, we commissioned films in order to help to immerse the visitor in Mies’s idea. The exhibition opened in 2001 at the Whitney Museum in New York and traveled to Chicago before its last showing in Montreal. Mies in America was my last exhibition as director of the CCA.

For more details on Phyllis Lambert: 75 Years At Work, on view until June 4 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal, see the CCA's website here.

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Montreal's Village au Pied-du-Courant brings a pop-up tropical beach to a wintery city

Canada is better known for its winters, not its beaches, but a new collaborative development in Montreal could change that. Each summer weekend, city dwellers flock to the banks of the St. Lawrence River for high design and a playful, but sincerely socially-engaged tropical beach experience, free for all to enjoy.

Now in its third year, the Village au Pied-du-Courant is designed by 16 teams of architects and artists but is developed collaboratively as a shared public space that sustains the city’s art and creative scenes. Separated from the river by freight tracks and wedged between a busy thoroughfare, the artificial beach is open through September and attracts visitors of all ages.

On a recent visit, children were happily flinging sand and scrambling over the pyramidal L’Oasis de Las Verduras (green oasis), by local firm Cultures Associées, as parents watched from blankets on the sand. After a few tropical cocktails from the on-site bar, some beachgoers were taking naps in fabric hammocks suspended from the installations. Rows of cerfs-volants (kites), constructed of woven plastic beach chair material by Machine Design Appliqué, provided pockets of shade to solitary magazine readers on the otherwise treeless site. Twenty-somethings, slushy mixed drinks in hand, activated a giant fan with foot pedals attached to a beached boat in shooting distance of a rousing game of pétanque (a French version of bocce).

Ambient house music floated from le gazebo f(ê)te, designed by local architects Amélie Ricard and Shanie Jalbert-Bossé, setting the festive atmosphere. An angular stage, constructed from interlocking plywood at a modest budget of around $2,500, exemplifies the ad-hoc elegance of the beach. Framed by the massive Jacques-Cartier Bridge in the distance, the platform hosts a slatted DJ booth and is surrounded by potted palms.

Across the sandy court sits a small museum, constructed of aqua plywood slats with an entrance of bisected circles, that details the history of Village au Pied-du-Courant through citizen-contributed photographs and ephemera. Designed by Table Architecture, one wing is devoted to the Village’s library, which contains thematically relevant books on participatory art, the construction of public spaces, and local history curated by LAAT, a nonprofit that distributes literature on the arts, geography, and architecture.

Next door in FÉLIX & CO’s bureau mobile (mobile office), where workers can charge their electronics and upload photos of the Village to social media. (The organizers have a weekly Instagram contest where the best photos tagged #piedducourant are featured on the Village’s Facebook page.) If you’re stuck at your desk reading this, search the tag for a vicarious trip to the beach.