Award of Excellence: Cube

Montreal, Quebec
Smith Vigeant architectes

Located in Montreal’s gay village, with its lively shops, bars, clubs and restos, this four-storey concrete block structure in the semi-brutalist style housed a technical college until last spring. Cube is the transformation of the former college space into 16 residential units which the architects describe as a “voyeuristic intervention.” At first glance, the faade draws attention to itself with its coloured pivoting glass panels which reflect, mirror, and alter exterior views, thereby giving new vibrancy to the hard surfaces of boulevard de Maisonneuve’s urbanity.

Units are equipped, in the spirit of this joie de vivre, with blue ceramic walk-in showers glazed with frosted glass that gives onto the living area. Natural light is let in by day while at night a soft glow is emitted. Characteristic of loft design, the open living space is exposed to the existing concrete ceiling. The bathrooms and showers are clustered around the central utility core, highlighting the frosted walk-in shower at each corner.

Materials include authentic Canadian hardwood floors and fired ceramic. The use of gypsum and steel studs is reduced while concrete materials are left exposed. The exterior brick faade is preserved except where the window openings are made larger, and a green ribbon of various plant types wraps the perimeter of the site. Windows are standard double-paned thermal glass (low-e and argon gas-filled) while energy-efficient appliances are proposed and featured. Corner positions for the lofts allow for windows on two walls, and natural cross-ventilation, low-flow toilets and efficient showers and faucets also reduce energy costs.

Boutin: Conscious of the physical and social context for this project, the architects have skillfully modified, through a number of moves, the superstructure of an existing building in order to inhabit it with new program. The modifications are minimum, but work to the maximum effect of rendering the surfaces that bound the open spaces with the amenity required for the unfolding of a complex and interactive lifestyle, one that demands the full spectrum from intimate to urban experience, and the necessary collapse between them.

Rosenberg: This project’s minimalist strategy stood out amongst all the entrants. The detailing of the building and its spatial organization is wonderfully connected to the social dynamics of the neighbourhood. The pivoting coloured windows compliment the surrounding building in a playful way. The effect this will have on the pedestrian environment could be magical.

Sherman: I find this a remarkably intelligent project, in terms of how its visual and psychological impact is achieved simply by “tweaking” or putting a new twist on a couple of public-private conventions that are ordinarily taken for granted. Altering conditions of transparency–one from the outside looking in, and the other within the building itself (from a room to bathroom), undermines the stable relationship of public to private, and causes us to re-question that relationship in light of the extraordinary degree to which we are being watched and monitored today–especially appropriate in the case of the program: a shelter for wayward boys.

Client: Lofts de Sve inc.

Architect team: Daniel Smith, Stphan Vigeant, Magali Gilbert, Owen Rose, Myrianne Tissot-Chnier

Structural: Nicolet Chartrand Knoll associs

Mechanical: Caron Beaudoin et associs

Electrical: Caron Beaudoin et associs

Interiors: Smith Vigeant architectes

Area: 25,250 sq. ft.

Budget: $1.6 million

Completion: March 2004