Accoladed Montreal firm Chevalier Morales Architectes recently completed the Drummondville Public library. Set on a strategically central site in the historic Québécois market town, the new curtain wall structure serves as much more than just a standard bibliothèque. The "well rounded" building operates as a sorely needed connector that bridges a formerly isolated civic complex to Drummonville's commercial core. Making use of as much space as possible on an awkwardly-shaped plot, the project's mass snakes in different directions but ultimately finds its grounding tucked in between various preexisting infrastructures, a power-line to the east and a skating rink to the west. The two-story building's curvilinear envelope carries through into its interior where convex and concave architectural elements help foster a program of unencumbered and layered movement. The structure not only houses the city's main library but also its historic society, arts and culture, and immigration departments. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
Posts tagged with "Montreal":
Programmed as a dynamic matrix of distinctly-designed lounges, bars, rooftop terraces, and washrooms, the third floor Social Square level at the new Four Seasons Hotel Montreal was conceived as to better facilitate communal ergonomics; the fluid interactions between hotel guests and locals who stop by for dinner or drinks. Set at the base of a new Lemay and Sid Lee Architecture-designed building, located along the ever-trendy Golden Square Mile, this public floor was designed by local hotshot firm Atelier Zébulon Perron to evoke circadian rhythms. While it can be inferred that this theme is a play on the hotel's name, it can also be understood as a reference to the northern city's dark, cold winter months. Certain spaces employ sky gradients and light wood tambour paneling to express daytime, and others use a dark, rich, and moody palette of materials to suggest the evening or night. Marble, terrazzo, brass, prismatic glass, white oak, and velvet help make up this dramatic mise-en-scene. At the core of the Social Square is the MARCUS restaurant, developed with Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, whose proclivity for seafood carries through the entire project. An encased king crab greats guests as they exit a gold-leaf-clad elevator bay. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
More than 50 years after Montreal's Expo 67 World’s Fair, Parc Jean-Drapeau, has received a full renovation by the transdisciplinary design firm Lemay. The vast redevelopment project, titled Espace 67, involved the enhancement of a natural amphitheater and redevelopment of the central concourse that links the island’s Biosphere to Alexander Calder’s Trois Disques sculpture. The project began in 2017 and the revitalization of the site is, in part, a celebration of the City of Montreal’s 375th anniversary. “Lemay’s concept blends the enchanting natural setting and rich historic past of this exceptional site, to offer a truly versatile space,” said Andrew King, partner and design principal at Lemay in a press release, “It has been reborn as a destination unto itself, now able to fully accommodate a wide range of major events.” Building on the 662-acre site’s history, Lemay aimed to recreate the “festive, unifying spirit” of Expo 67, which is remembered as a landmark in Canadian history for its social, cultural, and technological advancements. With a record-breaking number of visitors, it was the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century. The design approach is rooted in adaptive reuse but creates enhanced services, event spaces, and wayfinding through a holistic design strategy. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s neighboring geodesic dome, the central pathway has been shaped by inclined planes paved with a geometric pattern. The slight incline (and to many resident’s dismay, the removal of hundreds of trees) maximizes views of Calder’s sculpture as well as the surrounding context of the St. Lawrence River and Old Montreal. Service pavilions have been added near the site’s entrance with materials that echo the architectural language of the Expo and follow the same geometric design incorporated throughout the rest of the park. The pavilions themselves were also designed with wayfinding and crowd management in mind, and their metallic surfaces and lighting design making them prominent markers throughout the visitor’s journey in the park. The massive renovation spans 1,502,286 square feet, with the amphitheater alone accounting for 615,265 square feet of that. While the theater can seat up to 65,000 people at any given time, it was designed with flexibility in mind; the stage can be adjusted and the floor shortened to create intimacy for smaller events. While some are excited about the prospect of holding larger-scale events and festivals on the former fairgrounds, others are disappointed in the redesign. Retired professor and historian, Roger La Roche, told Citylab that, “The main objective of Expo 67’s planners was to make the site completely human-sized. Even if there were people everywhere, you could still feel isolated, in your own little bubble,” he explained, reminiscing on the days of his youth when he worked as a cook at the fair. The architects insist that the removal of trees for the creation of more open space was due to the disrepair that the entire park, including the landscaping, was in. However, not all is lost for the city’s nature lovers. Société du parc Jean-Drapeau has recently joined forces with the City of Montreal on a naturalization project for the south bank of the nearby Olympic Basin on Île Notre-Dame, in which more than 135 trees and 300 shrubs have already been planted. Done in conjunction with the urban forest action plan, the objective is to plant 300,000 trees by 2025, increasing the city’s canopy index by five percent.
Detroit has always been a design-forward city, a fact made official back in 2015 when they were designated a UNESCO City of Design, the only in the United States. A center of architectural innovation, futuristic automotive design, boulevards meant to rival the Champs-Élysées, and one of the U.S.’s foremost collections of art, the city in recent years has gotten more attention for its bankruptcy, corruption, and mass foreclosures and vacancy. But, as Olga Stella, executive director of Design Core Detroit, a partner organization which “champions design-driven businesses and their role in strengthening Detroit’s economy,” points out, “Detroit is not and never has been just one thing.” Throughout its expansive 139 square miles, many are working to create neighborhoods and a city that works for them. Design doesn’t just happen at the rarefied scale of a Beaux Arts museum, it happens in and by communities who work to create a city they want to live in. These projects are being celebrated at the second iteration of Detroit Design 139 (DD139), a serial exhibition co-organized by the City of Detroit, Design Core Detroit, and developer Bedrock. Members from each organization, as well as nine others, served on the advisory board. The projects were selected by a jury of design notables, both from Detroit and other cities, including New York City Public Design Commission executive director Justin Garrett Moore and Detroit-based equitable development strategist Lauren Hood. With the main showcase at street level in downtown Detroit in a Bedrock-owned building, as well as at three partner locations throughout the city, celebrates 70 projects under five thematic headings that, according to the organizers and jurors, embody DD139’s 2019 theme of "Inclusive Futures". “All of us working on design problems and projects should be holding ourselves to higher standards,” said Melissa Dittmer, Bedrock’s chief design officer, of the ethos of inclusion ostensibly showcased in the exhibition, which features projects built in the last two years or to be built in the next three. The projects were laid out rather blandly like a well-executed science fair or a real-life PDF, with posters along temporary slatted walls and the occasional model or video. Stella said that, historically, “In a city that doesn’t have a lot of capital [the question of] ‘how are we going to pay for it?’ was guiding decisions, not design solutions,” noting that it was a developer-driven process, with Maurice Cox, Detroit’s outgoing planning and development director. (Cox was also on the advisory committee of DD139.) Dittmer says there was a need for new building to begin “prioritizing the process as much as the outcomes,” something many of the projects exhibited; for example a cafe-laundromat combo, The Commons, designed by the local firm LAAVU in a process which founder and chief design officer Kaija E. Wuollet explains, began by collectively creating a strategic plan to inform the design, building, and operations. The choice in amenities was guided by neighbor requests and they act as not only a space in their own right, but a revenue stream for the non-profit MACC Development, which provides literacy programs, coworking space, artistic opportunities, and other community resources right within the building. This was a recurring theme: neighborhood-focused and neighborhood-led design solutions are a strength of Detroit now and could be what shapes the city's future. But, another recurring theme that the MACC project implies is that due to a dearth of government support, many private organizations have had to pick up the slack. That said, some public programs were featured in the exhibition, perhaps among the most noteworthy for designers, the Michigan ArcPrep program, a public school architecture initiative led by the University of Michigan's Taubman College. Even restaurants were in the exhibition. In community engagement workshops, residents in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood expressed a desire for more places to eat and more Black-owned businesses. With the help of a Motor City Match grant, Norma G’s was opened by Lester Gouvia. Kaitlynn Hill, one of the project’s architects from Hamilton Anderson Associates, said she saw this as “a community-based project,” as much as a commercial enterprise. Other Detroit mainstays made the cut for the exhibition. The legendary Pewabic Pottery, whose distinctive glazed tiles that adorn high-rise facades and fireplaces alike are still made in small batches in Detroit, had recently undergone an expansion with the help of inFORM Studio. While the expansion added more workspace, it also helped Pewabic—which is organized as a non-profit—further advance their public mission. Like the original 1903 structure, this new building is close to the residential street. In addition to a shop, museum, and classroom space, there is also an open courtyard with a large mural that hosts events or allows passersby to come in and chill for a bit. In addition, Pewabic goes into communities with portable kilns, keeping design heritage alive and inviting others to participate in it. Many cultural projects were featured, including a skatepark-slash-sculpture park and public mural initiatives. One particularly intriguing project highlighted was the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67, which investigated the legacy of Detroit’s 1967 rebellion in a “community engagement” project by collecting oral histories, producing an exhibition, and providing grants to “placemaking” projects. Some of the projects include an LGBT-focused community garden, an outdoor theater space focused on the Black, Latinx, and Arab communities of Detroit, and a memorial to those who lost their lives around the time of the uprising. There were a number of environmentally-focused projects, both grassroots and large scale, a balance and comparison that was interesting to see. Some included academic research on stormwater management interventions, the Zero Net Energy Center, rain gardens, and an upcycled windmill. Projects with international design pedigree also appeared: David Adjaye and New York’s Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates have designed a pavilion and other structures for the Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park, which, when it’s open, will be part of a network of riverside parks and greenways in an area that was once home to abandoned manufacturing plants. The park is currently overseen by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. However, on a tour through the Dequindre Cut, a rail-trail connected to the riverfront, on a Sunday when it was clearly being enjoyed by many, it was mentioned by an employee of the Conservancy that many houseless people formerly lived on the trail. In fact, this was mentioned many places, but inquiries made into where those people went and whether these “inclusive” projects accounted for housing access for those they were displacing remained mostly unanswered. While houselessness is declining in Detroit and new projects like the short-term housing Pope Francis Center (not exhibited) are on their way to reality, police have also been known to sweep away the belongings of the houseless, even in the dead of winter. If this park is for everyone, what about those who called it home? In this second iteration of DD139, the choice was made to include projects from other UNESCO Cities of Design, like Saint-Étienne, France, and Montreal, which are using design to address many of the same challenges faced in Detroit. The organizers hope that this can help create a dialogue and show the fact that Detroit, though a unique situation, is not alone, and that everything from new elder caregiving studies in Singapore to canal projects in Mexico City could help Detroit think through its own unique challenges. However, how every project fit in seemed unclear. A project, the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center, to help give homes and resources such as jobs and healthcare to houseless youth and those at risk of houselessness, especially LGBTQ+ kids who make up as much as 40% of this country’s houseless population, are undeniably necessary, ameliorative projects. However, on the poster for a banal mixed-use and mixed-income housing development the description of why the project is inclusive reads: “The project has gone through extensive design iterations, city vetting, and community engagement processes to ensure it captures neighborhood feedback. Meetings around the community were offered in both English and Spanish, with translators and/or translation equipment at every meeting, making it as accessible as possible for community members.” Is this not the bare minimum we should expect? Pair that with the bare minimum in architectural quick-build tastelessness by the Philadelphia firm SITIO and one has to wonder what sort of definition of “design” is at play here. Some projects are more design-y than others. Pewabic Pottery, the Symbiotic Landscape watershed restoration, a digital mapping project that proposes using architectural and urban interventions to fight Detroit’s “digital divide”—these all make design part-and-parcel of their mission, and they're realizing that mission. An entrepreneurship incubator or a bakery in a mixed-use development, Core City, which some Detroiters I spoke with expressed distrust of, might be interesting, or at least tasty, but is it necessarily a “design” solution? Is a building in and of itself using design to address these so-called civic challenges, let alone being inclusive by and through design? This vagueness of mission and indeterminate take on the role of design in some projects points out a bigger issue. The project’s main sponsor and proponent, one of the three partner organizers, Bedrock, has undeniably reshaped downtown Detroit, perhaps in ways, some residents might see as for the better. From the design-forward Shinola Hotel to the forthcoming first foray by the fast-fashion retailer H&M to the revamp of the 475-foot-tall Book Tower, a magnificent and delirious example of early 20th-century architecture that has sat unoccupied for a decade, downtown Detroit is increasingly lively (and increasingly expensive). And, fitting with the exhibition's theme, “Creating unique, inclusive experiences through real estate is Bedrock’s mission,” claims a Bedrock press release. Yet, as the Detroit Free Press has recently revealed, Bedrock has gotten huge swaths of downtown property at little cost, with many incentives and tax breaks, and with an unheard of lack of financial oversight. Also, Bedrock has leveraged their power to strong-arm Michigan’s OSHA into looking away from their safety violations while “lecturing” inspectors on how to do their jobs. Is creating buildings without protecting working people inclusive? In addition, while Bedrock has been touting their successful bid to redevelop the site of the so-called “fail jail,” turning this long-vacant lot into usable space, this deal was negotiated with Wayne County by allowing Rock Ventures, another Dan Gilbert organization and Bedrock’s parent company, to construct that county’s jail, presumably without sullying Bedrock’s name. How can one claim to not only celebrate inclusive design but create "inclusive experiences," while supporting the creation of one of the United States’ most powerful and inarguably racist tools of social and mortal death? Perhaps the theme, "Inclusive Futures", says it all: a virtuous-sounding word like “inclusive” can itself often be so inclusive as to be virtually meaningless, a rhetorical throwaway. Because what is “inclusion”—and what “inclusive futures” are possible—without equity, without reparations, without an effort to shift the balance of political and economic power? While many grassroots projects and even larger scale ones featured in DD139 are compelling, worthy, and deserve the spotlight, with the ongoing efforts of the exhibition’s primary sponsor Bedrock to stymy state oversight, build jails, and get land cheaply, you wind up not only with misplaced good intentions—you get design washing. DD139 is on view in Detroit through September 30th. You can read more about the projects here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.