Canadian Art Pavilion, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montral

ARCHITECT Provencher Roy + Associés Architectes
LOCATION Montreal, Quebec

Since its founding in 1860, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) has moved and expanded a number of times. Its growth, in the form of pavilions, has always evolved from a profound reflection on museum architecture. The Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion, and the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion are all tectonic expressions of strong museological visions inspired by cultural and technical concerns specific to the periods in which they were built.

The new pavilion is also in keeping with this tradition of continuity and proposes a distinct expression that reflects today’s concerns and knowledge. The result is the dynamic integration of a heritage building with an architectural whole that has a strong presence in the urban environment, utilizes the latest museum-building techniques, and creates a harmonious dialogue with the other museum buildings. It does not, however, fall back on stylistic mimicry.

The transformation of the Erskine and American Church and the construction of the new Canadian Art Pavilion for the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal demonstrates the museum’s willingness to preserve the heritage of our built environment while pursuing its goal of preserving and publicly exhibiting Canadian artwork dating all the way back to the 17th century. The project satisfies contemporary museum requirements and blends harmoniously with its existing architectural whole, providing a unique opportunity to create an exceptionally rich heritage environment while legitimately integrating the Erskine and American Church with the museum’s permanent collection of Canadian art.

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal was relocated to its current location on rue Sherbrooke in 1912, after having spent more than 50 years on Phillips Square. In constant need of more exhibition space, the museum developed as a campus-style urban typology. Three new buildings were constructed, each with a contemporary approach to form, materials, technique and spatial organization. Built across the street in the early 1990s, the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion was established with its underground gallery, and a tightly knit cultural network in this dense urban area emerged. In 2004, the museum acquired the Erskine and American Church and selected it as the home of the new Canadian Art Pavilion.

The project includes five new exhibition halls and an underground gallery linking the existing network to a new concert hall in the church. Modelled as a journey through time, the exhibition halls are stacked one above each other, and each represents a particular period in Canadian art. From Colonial to Modern, visitors can explore different periods, beginning in the underground gallery and visiting each level, connected via a main staircase. As they ascend, the relationship between light and environment changes, each floor gradually allowing in more and more natural light. The top level, with its glass roof and walls, is literally drenched in daylight and offers visitors a stunning view of the city. From here, one can see all of the museum’s pavilions, its sculpture garden, and the church’s impressive rooftop.

With architectural unity in mind, the exterior cladding is comprised of Vermont white marble originating from the same quarry as the other pavilions, which covers the entirety of the new Canadian Art Pavilion’s exterior surfaces. The cladding system utilizes a rain screen with a pressurized cavity in the back.

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal recognizes the value of the Erskine and American Church as part of the architectural heritage of Montreal and Canada, and wishes to restore and preserve it. Consequently, the museum has restored the church’s envelope and interior finishes, repaired its exterior walls, showcased the stained glass windows, and has also ensured that the organ is in optimum condition. Ultimately, this project represents a decisively contemporary undertaking that complements the existing building in a most sensitive manner.

JC: While I appreciate the way this project addresses the urban context, program and historic precedence, I do have reservations about the way the new engages the old, and also about the formal architectural resolution of the new addition.

AK: This project simultaneously represents urban stitching, artifact and parasite, evidencing a clear and beautiful strategy for the way a city uses and animates its artifacts. It is a wonderfully parasitic but formally distinct addition to an iconic object on a very important street within a loaded context. The project is quietly aggressive, finding crevasses and cracks in the urbanity, topography and geology to link disparate objects into a cohesive and extremely compelling composition of forms and spaces. This success continues as one moves through the public spaces, performance venue and galleries, culminating in a series of buoyant, sky-filled spaces that engage the complicit buildings and the city beyond. It is a beautifully complex, intelligent and satisfying work.

JL: This is a very challenging project in that it is part restoration, part adaptive reuse, and part new build. Each aspect in itself is very convincing and the underground connection looks like it will be stunning. It appears to be a very compressed site, but again the submission made it difficult to understand the overarching ideas.

Client Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal
Architect Team André Beaudette, Alain Blanchette, Claude Provencher, Danielle Dewar, Denis Gamache, Eugenio Carelli, Jonathan Blisle, Jean-Luc Rémy, Kia Moazami Farahani, Laurent Putzolu, Mlanie Caron, Marie-Claude Lambert, Matthieu Geoffrion
Structural Nicolet Chartrand Knoll Limite
Mechanical/Electrical Enerpro & Le Groupe Conseil Berman
Landscape/Interiors Provencher Roy + Associés Architectes
Contractor Pomerleau Inc.
Existing Stone Restoration DFS Architecture + Design
Scenography Go Multimédia
Area 5,400 m2
Budget $28.5 M
Completion February 2011