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Evolutionary Design

PROJECT M9, MONTREAL, QUEBEC

ARCHITECT NOMADE ARCHITECTURE

TEXT DAVID THEODORE

PHOTOS STPHANE BRUGGER

M9 is a multi-storey, residentially based, mixed-use project located between the Bonaventure Expressway and Prince Street, north of the Lachine Canal and just west of Old Montreal. Or, at least, it will be. Only Phase 1 of a planned four-phase development has been built, but it already portends an urbane, dramatic future for the area. Now known as the Faubourg des Rcollets, this district was once home to numerous manufacturing buildings. But in the 1960s the Bonaventure Expressway, built to connect downtown with the suburbs on the South Shore, split the neighbourhood in two, and industry left when the canal closed as a commercial waterway in 1970.

Designed by Montreal-based NOMADE Architecture, M9 deserves close attention because it lays out some important new approaches to designing in the city while having fun with some old ones. Although other residential projects in the area have successfully addressed the historic semi-industrial fabric through neo-Modern contextual and formal architectures, NOMADE has opted, perhaps naively, for a blunter, contemporary, graphic approach that optimistically banks on the rejuvenation of this neglected urban district. “We wanted to play with the day-to-day program to make something at the scale of the city,” says partner Martin Leblanc. “That’s basically our job.”

Phase 1, finished in 2007, presents a seven-storey domestic version of the brick daylight factories that characterized the Faubourg in its heyday. There are 47 living units comprising a variety of transverse units, double-level units, and open-plan “loft” units strung on either side of brightly coloured corridors. The ground floor features “maisonettes” (townhouses) with direct entrance from Prince Street and private gardens on the courtyard side. There are 50 parking spots occupying two underground levels, and a lobby that would not be out of place in a boutique hotel. Overall, the effect is the kind of expansively glazed stack-boxed residential architecture you might see in Dublin or Lisbon, but rendered in humbler materials.

Colour gives the building its graphic panache. Ever since the multicoloured glass faade of the Palais des Congrs expansion project went up, designers in Montreal have embraced bright, vivid colours–or at least now have the option to deploy them. For M9 Phase 1, NOMADE used such colour for the building’s lighting and cladding. The sheet metal window surrounds on the street elevation are alternately coloured bright chartreuse, augmented at night by LED illumination. On the courtyard side, swathes of orange cement board, usually installed as imitation wood siding, are arranged in a bold chevron pattern that is clearly visible from far away–especially from the elevated highways heading into downtown.

When completed, M9 will occupy the last major site meant to be part of the Cit Multimdia, a real estate development project launched in 1998 by the provincial government to promote Quebec’s role in the emerging digital economy. (The campus of seven office buildings was sold to a private real estate company in 2003.) M9’s developers, Dveloppements McGill, did not purchase the whole parcel of land in one shot, though. So the phasing of the design had to also accommodate changing propositions for the dimensions of the site–flexibility NOMADE has tried to engage both in proposing a diverse, multi-use program and in composing an ensemble of buildings that, in Leblanc’s words, seeks “unity through diversity.”

Phase 2, marketed as M9 Evolution and set to open in 2009, will add some much-needed commercial spaces along the ground floor as there are few basics retail services nearby. The plans call for a seven-storey building topped by a twostorey glass box, all containing 48 condominium units including 12 double-height penthouses with large terraces. “The penthouses are twostorey glass boxes that respond to a different context than the commercial base,” explains partner Jean Pelland. “They are all about the view.” In future phases, the building will turn the corner towards the Bonaventure Expressway, marked by a 29-storey tower, perhaps housing a hotel. Given the unusual, decaying-but-rejuvenating environs, NOMADE has experimented with generating internal views onto an interior courtyard. Noted Montreal-based landscape architect Claude Cormier has been commissioned to design a multi-level terrain that connects office spaces on the second floor of Phase 2 to the lobby of Phase 1.

When it came time to compose the elevations for Phase 2, NOMADE experimented with formfinding through parametric design. Using the 3D graphics application Cinema 4D, they defined four parameters: diurnal versus nocturnal activities, views, solar exposure and privacy. Each point on the faade was mapped to each of the parameters, based on calculations that a bathroom would require more privacy (less glazing) than a living room, or that a bedroom would be used at night and a kitchen during the day. The final window patterns could then be chosen from an array generated by applying factors to each of the parameters and specifying the total amount of opening. (The zoning here did not limit the total number of openings allowed in the walls.)

In the end, they reduced this complexity to allow for more efficient and cost-effective construction. They chose amounts of 50, 70 and 100 percent openings, arranged in panels that could be flipped to make a total of six modules. “We kept the idea that the final building would have to have some value as an aesthetic object,” says Pelland. “That means there’s a certain human factor to the design the computer can’t give you.” Finally, the resulting elevations were tweaked based on ideas about the surrounding urban context: to focus views, to allow the sky to be visible in the double-height lobby, and to align with existing street grids. They were looking to ensure subtle connections to the fine grain of the neighbourhood. “You can always develop neighbourhoods,” opines Pelland, “but it’s more difficult to really make a place where people can live.” Indeed, the neighbourhood is an essential factor in the story. When NOMADE began the project, few believed that condo-seekers would pay to live overlooking the Expressway. NOMADE’s strategy was to turn this liability into an advantage, making their project into a landmark gateway to the city, rising tall enough to afford spectacular views to its inhabitants. Since then, however, plans to tear down the raised portion of the Bonaventure Expressway and replace it with a major urban boulevard leading to the downtown core have been tabled. The city has also recently approved a controversial but imminent $1.3-billion redevelopment of Griffintown, the area just to the west of the highway. In the end, then, the flexible phasing of the project might really work to M9’s advantage. For what started out as a lone, vibrant residential outpost in a decaying district may soon be the colourful centrepiece of urban regeneration.CA

David Theodore is a Research Associate and College Lecturer at the School of Architecture, McGill University, where he teaches courses in architectural design and studies the history of health care architecture.

M9–PHASE 1

CLIENT DVELOPPEMENTS MCGILL INC.

ARCHITECT TEAM JEAN PELLAND, MICHEL LAUZON, MARTIN LEBLANC, YVON LACHANCE, NATACHA MERCIER, JULIEN GEOFFROY, PIERRE-ALEXANDRE RHAUME, JEAN-SEBASTIEN BOURDAGES, FREDERICK SIMARD

STRUCTURAL PASQUIN ST-JEAN ET ASSOCIS

MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL CDI GROUPE-CONSEILS

LANDSCAPE NOMADE

INTERIORS INNDESIGN+MP1/NOMADE

MARKETING INNDESIGN+MP1

CONTRACTOR MAYTON DM

AREA 8,000 M2

BUDGET $9 M

COMPLETION SEPTEMBER 2007

M9–PHASE 2

CLIENT DVELOPPEMENTS MCGILL INC.

ARCHITECT TEAM NOMADE: JEAN PELLAND, MARTIN LEBLANC, MICHEL LAUZON, YVON LACHANCE, DENIS CLERMONT, CARL-ANTONYN DUFAULT, PHILIPPE NOLET, NATACHA MERCIER, MARTIN DAOUST. DESNOYERS MERCURE & ASSOCIS ARCHITECTES: FRANOIS LEMOINE, MARCO COMTOIS, TRAN BACH, AMLIE PAQUIN, MARCEL LEFEBVRE.

STRUCTURAL PASQUIN ST-JEAN ET ASSOCIS

MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL TEKNIKA-HBA

LANDSCAPE CLAUDE CORMIER ARCHITECTES PAYSAGISTES (CCAP)

INTERIORS NOMADE

CONTRACTOR MAYTON DM

AREA 12,000 M2

BUDGET $14 M

COMPLETION SPRING 2009

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