Beauty From the Beast

Project Institut De Tourisme Et D’hotellerie Du Quebec, Montreal, Quebec

Architects Lapointe Magne & Associes Architectes + difica

Text Ian Chodikoff

The Institut de tourisme et d’htellerie du Qubec (ITHQ) is the largest training institution in Canada specializing in tourism, accommodation and food services. Established in 1968 by the Quebec government, the ITHQ has developed an international reputation for its ability to offer world-class education in the hospitality industry. Considered a brutal and cruel example of the 1970s, the ITHQ became an immediate Montreal landmark due to its unfortunate origins as a bellicose-looking concrete and curtain wall tower on top of a dense and impenetrable concrete podium. Standing 11 storeys and measuring 21,000 square metres, it contains a subway station in its base. The ITHQ is not just a hotel school but also a government corporation. Therefore, the $39-million renovation by Lapointe Magne & Associs with difica had the provincial government as a client.

Rising above a floating island in the middle of Montreal where automobile traffic streams by on rue Berri, the building is an important part of many Montrealers’ daily lives: it demarcates the Latin Quarter on rue St-Denis to the west, connects directly above to the Sherbrooke metro stop and is near to the pedestrian street of Prince Arthur. As new construction along rue Berri develops, such as the recently opened National Library by the Patkaus and new institutional projects being planned by the Universit du Qubec Montral (UQAM), there are real incentives for the ITHQ to succeed as a friendly component to Montreal’s changing urban fabric.

Due to the importance of the school remaining a going concern, most of the construction had to be completed during the summer months of 2003 and 2004 when students were on vacation. It quickly became apparent to the architect team that a double-skin application for the renovation would make the most sense, not only in terms of sustainability but as a cost-effective way for the building to undergo a radical facelift. The new double-skin application varies on all four elevations of the tower. Along rue Berri, the faade is the most geometric. Along rue de Malines and rue de Rigaud, the faade is more ordered, with balconies for the hotel guests. On the tower elevation overlooking St-Denis, a dazzling composition of green and yellow coloured glazing is set 600 millimetres out from the existing building and arranged in a sawtooth pattern. This elevation is one of the most distinctive and joyful of the project. The double-skin faade, in all its variations, captures and preheats the air being brought into the building, thus improving the overall thermal resistance of the project and ensuring natural ventilation year-round with operable windows. Some of the existing windows were reused, thereby reducing the expense of refurbishing components of the existing skin. Additionally, both ultra-clear and translucent glazing are applied at the base of the building and along the upper balconies to provide depth to a faade that had to transform a 1970s Quebecois behemoth into a sophisticated 21st-century Montrealer.

Being a school for hospitality, it was important for the new building to reacquaint itself with the street through greater transparency. At night, the ITHQ’s shop displaying foods from Quebec and the school’s restaurant serve to enliven the building’s presence. For example, the arcade space along rue de Rigaud runs adjacent to a wall of glass permitting a warm glow from the lobby, thus providing strong visual communication to passersby as to the existence of life within the school. On rue St-Denis, the transparency of the hall with its large oculus, glass balconies, terraces and variety of staircases allows the viewing of internal activities by both visitors and students alike. Included in the ITHQ’s renovation were new food chemistry and sensory analysis labs, demonstration kitchens, workshops for pastry chefs and chocolatiers, a refrigerated workshop for catering courses, a special sommellerie room (to train professional wine stewards), a multimedia documentation centre, and an 80-seat auditorium. The ITHQ is one of the only hotel schools in the world to have its own training hotel with 42 guest rooms.

Most distinctively, the faade along rue St-Denis, in front of St. Louis Square has a formal yet expressive loggia inhabited by the students. On the glazing is a large fritted “INSTITUT” declaring its presence across the entire width of the building, throughout the day and at night. This type of signage is often a miserable failure: for instance, the barely legible “University of Toronto” on top of The Graduate House at the University of Toronto (CA, November 2001). Fortunately, the signage application at the ITHQ is much more successful and is neither imposing nor subtle but merely demonstrative of the building’s new image. Additionally, the third floor incorporates a balcony while acknowledging the heights of the adjacent buildings.

Without intending to minimize the importance of the extensive renovation of the building’s interiors, the new ITHQ is a remarkable example where a new skin, achieved through an additional layer of glass, can allow for a complete transformation of an old edifice into one that can re-engage itself with the city, its immediate communities, and the general well-being of its students, teachers and hotel guests.

Client ITHQ / Societe Immobiliere du Quebec

Architect Team Michel Lapointe, Robert Magne, Guy Favreau, Jean-Luc Vadeboncoeur, Sophie Benoit, Louis Laperriere, Stephane Rasselet, Genevieve Crete, Julie Belanger

Structural Les Consultants Geniplus Inc.

Mechanical/Electrical Les Consultants S.M. Inc.

Interiors Lapointe Magne + difica

Art Integration Artist Jacek Jarnuszkiewicz

Restaurant Luc Laporte Et Associes

Project Manager Le Groupe Decarel Inc.

Food Services Consultant Bernard & Associes

Elevator Consultants Exim

Area 21,000 M2

Budget $39 M

Completion February 2005

Photography Michel Brunelle and Michel Tremblay unless otherwise noted

The Community Chest

Sophie Gironnay, the Creative Director of Montreal’s Galerie Monopoli curates a small window into the world of architecture. Each month, a contemporary building is displayed within two large showcases located across the hall from each other in a busy commuter thoroughfare leading through the Palais de Congrs. Gironnay’s work represents a small but important contribution that serves to educate Montrealers on the merits of contemporary architecture, and the ITHQ was the latest project displayed. Both the actual project as well as Gironnay’s presentation of the project’s model, drawings and sketches reinforce the value of good architecture and urbanism to Montrealers.

Around the corner on rue St-Antoine is the actual Galerie Monopoli, a privately run enterprise focusing on urban and architectural issues. The gallery is a veritable advertisement for architecture that would be the envy of other cities, notably Toronto which has nothing remotely close to the elegance, energy and intelligence produced by the architectural community that supports Monopoli.

In the ITHQ window display, Gironnay writes that “what distinguished the institute’s home, built in 1970, is that for 30 years, it was the building most disparaged, hated and condemned by Montrealers. Inherently ugly, the Brutalist mass heaped the odious onto the unforgivable by murdering the eastern side of Carr St-Louis by means of its blind walls.”

Gironnay goes on to write that, “The monster could not be killed or reborn, so instead, it received a new suit of made-to-measure clothes.
For two summers, Montrealers saw its four sides wrapped in scaffolding. The grey-brown sheet metal made way for the new moss green grille casing and sheets of glass in a variety of finishes, peppered with joyous mint green, lemon yellow and orange accents. Blinded by bitterness, Montrealers remained skeptical. Turn the ITHQ into a beauty? Mission impossible! And yet, mission accomplished.”

It is always uplifting to learn how a building can boost the confidence of a city that despite its occasional cynicism, arguably possesses one of the most architecturally enlightened attitudes in the country.