Cool, Calm, Connected

CDP Capital Centre, Montreal, Quebec
Gauthier, Daoust Lestage Inc./Faucher Aubertin Brodeur Gauthier/Les architectes Lemay et associs, in joint venture

The 62,000-square-metre Caisse de Dpt et du Placement (CDP) Capital Centre stands in sober contrast to its flamboyant neighbour to the east, the multi-coloured Palais des Congrs. This is a dynamic duo, but the Caisse de Dpt is definitely the straight guy. Embracing difference, both buildings create a continuous and convincing urban intervention to form Montreal’s newest corporate neighbourhood–the Quartier international.

Designed by a consortium of architects comprised of Gauthier, Daoust Lestage Inc., Faucher Aubertin Brodeur Gauthier, and Les architectes Lemay et associs, the Caisse du Dpt’s new headquarters is a lesson in cool collectivity. From the macro to the micro scale, this horizontal skyscraper remains consistently understated and makes an argument for urban, cultural and environmental sustainability.

Like the Palais des Congrs, the CDP Capital Centre repairs the post-1960s urban fabric by covering the Ville-Marie expressway. To span the highway and support the building above, the engineers specified a structure of heroic proportions comprised of oversized steel transfer beams 30 metres long and 5.4 metres high. The building above is essentially a bridge, 105 metres wide. Its spine-like atrium, christened “the Parquet,” links two new urban squares, Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle to the east and Square Victoria at the western end. In a brilliant urban move, the soaring nine-storey glass-clad atrium with its skeletal structure spans over Saint-Alexandre Street and allows automotive traffic to continue its north-south flow.

Continuing a theme of urban integration, the CDP Capital Centre also incorporates three existing buildings spanning several decades, a Bank of Canada built in the 1950s, the 1913 Montreal Herald Building, and the MECO: a prime example of Montreal Art Deco architecture. Visible from the main building, the roof of the MECO edifice was made into a kindergarten playground. At this corporate headquarters even the children of the CDP employees are included in the big picture.

As a gesture in cultural sustainability, the architects for CDP sourced local professional expertise and local building materials and products. As well, the artworks featured in the building were commissioned from contemporary Quebec artists. This solid Quebecois position is matched with a European sensibility in its environmental approach. Andr Potvin who heads University of Laval’s GRAP (Groupe de recherche en ambiances physiques) was called upon as the green consultant for the project to work with the consortium of architects headed by Rene Daoust, as well as the mechanical engineer for the project Andr Dupras of Dupras Ledoux Ingnieurs. The result is the design and implementation of the first double skin building designed for severe climatic conditions in Canada. In May 2003, the project’s smart skin system was awarded a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Award of Excellence, which was sponsored by the National Research Council’s Institute for Research in Construction. In addition, the CDP building’s bio-climatic design, energy systems, lighting, and the use of open corridors in an atrium in a high-rise structure were recognized.

The result of this innovative thinking is a remarkably discrete building in which all the various systems are seamlessly integrated to produce a distilled, luminous and hushed working environment in which the primary attention is focused on the psychological and physical comfort of each worker. This is achieved through a variety of design moves. The floor plates of the building never exceed a 15-metre depth and the office areas always look into one of three-square top-lit atriums and/or the glass-lined ‘Parquet’. To maximize on natural daylight, passive solar gain and the notion of ‘transparency’ large expanses of glazing are used.

To prevent heat loss, decrease sound transmission, and ensure physical comfort, the glazed perimeter of the work areas received a “neutralizing” wall. This wall is basically a double glass skin composed of a typical external curtain wall, a four-inch, mechanically ventilated air space and on the interior side a single pane glass shutter. Integrated at the base of this unit is an operable window and a hot water radiator. The interior shutter can be opened to clean the inside window and a small gap at its base allows warm air to rise within the four-inch air space. The heat from this air can be extracted and distributed elsewhere in the building or can be exhausted to one of the atriums. To cut down on heat gain and sun glare, motorized sunshades are installed within the four-inch window cavity. These shades are pulled up or down by a photometric sensor that detects the intensity of sunlight for each section of the elevation. Additionally, the user can override the system for his/her physical comfort.

The design of the office areas also features raised office floors with air diffusers distributed across its expanse. A dismountable partition system allows spatial flexibility for the changing needs of a large corporation without any need for demolition and waste of materials. And although the level of natural light is quite high, it is supplemented with soft ambient up-lighting of the ceiling plane and Artemide Tolomeo desk lamps.

This high-end headquarters is not embellished with the usual motifs of North American green architecture–exterior louvers, exposed mechanical ducts, highly articulated structure and the like. It is instead a highly edited, well-honed machine–an elegant apparatus to support the work and wants of the hundreds of employees who work here daily. The architectural signature of the building is centred on the more public component of the building–the Parquet. Its nine-storey south wall is composed of large expanses of fritted glass. Words the company deem valuable, such as “integrity,” as well as the date of the building’s completion, are etched on the glass. The weight of the glass and the wind loads are supported by a web of tree-like tubular steel structures with cast iron connections. The north wall of the atrium is comprised of exterior corridors tapered to echo the angle of the Ville-Marie expressway below. This is a magnificent space; an urban room visually grounded by a wooden floor of dark Brazilian Epi with a natural oil finish and furnished with low tables and sofas constructed of dark cherry wood. Projecting into this area by almost 20 metres on the 6th and 7th floor of the east tower is the heart of the CDP Capital Centre: a 560 square metre trading pod. In essence, it is a transparent, luminous, slightly distorted cube that works as an over-scaled object inhabiting one end of this grand hall.

Although at times dramatic, for the most part the architecture of the building lingers in the background–subdued and almost mute. The notions of sustainability and integration are rigorously followed at every level; from grand urban gestures to minute details of the environmental systems. The result is a seamless architectural experience where the environmental ambience is the focus and not the architectural hardware. In these days of architectural pyrotechnics, the CDP Capital Centre is refreshingly cool, calm and collected.

Client: Socit Immobilire Camont

Architectural associates: Rene Daoust, Ral Lestage, Paul Gauthier, ric Gauthier, Andr Brodeur, Louis T. Lemay, Andr Cardinal

Structural: Pasquin St-Jean, Saa Deslauriers Kadanoff, Consultants S.M.

Electrical/mechanical: Bouthillette Parizeau et associs, Dupras Ledoux, ingnieurs, Groupe HBA experts-conseils

Lighting consultant: Gabriel/design

Environmental consultant: Groupe de recherches en ambiances physiques (GRAP), cole d’architecture, Universit Laval

Acoustical Consultant: Octave Acoustique

Landscape Architect: Williams Asselin Ackaoui

National Building Code Consultant: Le groupe CSB inc.

Specifications consultant:
Serge Beauvais architecte

Work environment consultant: Jacqueline C. Vischer, Groupe de recherches sur les environnements de travail, Universit de Montral

Area: 665,956 sq. ft. aboveground; 59,122 sq. ft underground

Budget: $200 million construction cost and tenant’s improvements

Completion: 2003

Photography: As noted

Michael Carroll is the co-founder of Atelier BUILD and an adjunct professor at McGill University.