Centre Culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grce

ARCHITECTS Atelier Big City, Fichten Soiferman et Associés, L’OEUF
LOCATION Montreal, Quebec

The winning scheme from a competition that took place in August 2010, the new Cultural Centre for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce will be located in a residential neighbourhood on a block dominated by a World War II veterans’ housing complex called Benny Farm. The L-shaped building volume sits coherently within the Benny Farm context, framing a landscaped garden court which provides both a gracious public amenity and forecourts the secondary entrance to the building. In this courtyard, a balance is struck between hard surfaces for cars, bicycles and special events and functions, and landscaped features such as a large parterre under the existing maples, which may serve occasionally as an outdoor performance venue under the stars in summer.

The Cultural Centre is structured clearly as a biaxial composition around an entrance court and main public lobby. In the north-south axis one finds the multipurpose hall and its service wing, while the east-west axis contains the library. The fundamental principle underlying the design of the library is that of an articulated communal space, all generations and user groups brought together under one roof, sharing an image of the library as a great public room.

Furthermore, the library is articulated around a central desk and light court, the various user groups each finding its own identity in the composition of this centrality. The continuous nature of the floor spaces permits each of the groups to interact and “migrate” over time around the space, yet each of the architectural manipulations allows for clear identification of the groups.

The main areas of the library are organized in a zig-zag manner: the visitor proceeds gently down towards the children’s section, dramatically back and up towards the adolescent zone, and then back across towards the adult section. It is a spatially dynamic and recognizable structuring of the library’s main spaces, meant to encourage discovery of a multiplicity of choices and environments. It is a place in which the community will grow: children reaching up to adults, adolescents running with newfound liberty–only to return slowly as adults.

The building is “enveloped” by a great brick-and-steel curtain–the idea being to confer upon the Cultural Centre, and in particular the library spaces, a generous feeling of luminosity and of being almost outdoors. The curtain-like exterior abstracts the traditional systems of enclosure, offering inhabitants a protected environment within the comforting envelope, and controls light and temperature while maintaining infinite views and relationships to the neighbourhood.

Community, comfort, flexibility, economy and innovation organize the sustainability agenda. Understanding the limited means of the present, we look to the future and propose a building that will become more green with time, and will educate and engage the community. As for LEED, 26 credits are presented with no cost impact–and six with minimal cost impact–to achieve the required 32 credits. Additional credits are presented as potential directions if priorities change. These will be continually evaluated to ensure the most efficient means of achieving LEED certification.

DC: A nimbleness is evidenced here by a confident arrangement of well-packed and earnestly interlocked programmatic components–where the limited dollars/square foot ratio intriguingly seems to have leveraged the project forward more than to handicap it. The circulatory space is creatively “borrowed from” to enhance and better address the otherwise formulaically prescribed programmed spaces. The building’s efficiency suddenly becomes less a defensive budgetary strategy but one of a compact Hertzberger-like series of shared spaces, offering an array of incidental and chance cross-sectional experiences amongst its users.

MCC: The primary strength of this project lies in the richness of the interior spaces. The community will very easily embrace the building for its compelling variation of scale and atmosphere, and the continuity of interior spaces. Though the sustainability agenda is very coherent, a more overt physical connection between the Cultural Centre and the Benny Farm complex and gardens would have enhanced the project.

BH: Of several public buildings of this scale, we felt that this project correctly captured the essence of a neighbourhood community building. It is easy to imagine the building in use–an invigorating architectural environment that would not be spoiled by bad posters. Bright colours and an intelligent plan, careful use of overlook, and a robust but not extravagant materiality all created a spicy package for a small public building.

Client Arrondissement Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Ville de Montréal
Architect Team Atelier Big City: Randy Cohen, Howard Davies, Philippe Larocque, Traian Dima, Justin Nguyen, Muhidin Kadric, Sébastien St-Laurent, Vi Ngo. Fichten Soiferman et Associés Architectes: Andrij Serbyn, Gerald Soiferman, Étienne Gibeault, Ali Mojtabavi, Jessica Cuevas, Eric Jofriet, Alex Kravec, Brigitte Merran, Mostafa Aqel, Christine Latreille, Claudiu Olaru, Yves Melin. L’OEUF: Sudhir Suri, Aradhana Gupta, Mark Brightman, Hugues Daly, René Chevalier, Morgan Carter, Ivan Sylva, Matthieu Schleiss, Daniel Pearl, Marjorie Bolduc-Provost, Bernard Olivier.
Structural Groupe EGP
Mechanical/Electrical Pageau Morel et associés
Landscape NIP Paysage (Mathieu Cassavant, Claude Cournoyer)
Civil Vinci Consultants (Marie Dugué)
Graphics Atelier Pastille Rose (Tamzyn Berman)
Lighting CS Design (Conor Sampson)
Acoustics Sonar Consultants (Michel Leduc)
Accessibility Société Logique (Emilie Martineau)
Ergonomics Patrick Vincent
Daylighting Knot Shop (Andrew Hruby)
LEED Synairgis (Emmanuel Merliere)
LEED Commissioning EXP (Karine St. Germain)
Project Managers Monique Coté, Myrith Yassa
Area 4,500 m2
Budget $12 M
Completion Spring 2014