Canadian Architect

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Island Hoping

Costing $745 Million And Taking Nearly Nine Years To Complete, An Extension To Montreal's Orange Line Opened Up Last Summer, Carrying 50,000 Commuters Daily Between The Islands Of Laval And Montreal.

February 1, 2008
by Canadian Architect

PROJECT De La Concorde, Cartier And Montmorency Metro Stations, Laval, Quebec

PROJECT TEAM Groupement Sgtm: Snc-Lavalin, Gmat, Tecsult, And The Mbgf Consortium (Municonsult, Bisson & Associs Architectes, Giasson Et Farregut Architectes); Daniel Arbour Et Associs

ARCHITECTS Martin + Marcotte Architectes, Bisson Fortin Et Associs Architectes, Giasson Farregut Architectes

TEXT Gavin Affleck

PHOTOS Michel Brunelle, Marc Cramer, Michel Verreault

Being asked to write about Montreal’s subway system, the Metro, is like being asked to write about sunshine. Your humble correspondent’s opinions are unapologetically biased–coloured by more than 20 years of combining a 15-minute walk with a seven-stop ride on the Metro to begin and end my work day. Montreal’s Metro is among the most architecturally expressive and beautiful subways in the world and has been contributing to my quality of life for years. The Metro presents a daily pageant of life in a spacious, colourful, and comfortable environment–businessmen with noses in newspapers, noisy hordes of schoolchildren, elegantly dressed women, bluecollar types with lunch buckets–all manner of urban characters. For the habitual traveller, it is also an informal social network of brief, friendly encounters–a pleasurable experience that leaves one mystified that many Montrealers actually prefer sitting alone in their automobiles.

Subways exist in counterpoint to cars, and the public transit/private car debate is central to an understanding of the contemporary North American city. What is the source of the unflagging appeal of the automobile? A gross deformation of the idea of individual liberty? Unrealistic expectations of practicality and efficiency? Rampant consumer fetishism? The right to privacy defiantly subverting urban space? Looking at the debate from the public transit side, one thing is clear: the Metro is public space in its most dynamic and expressive form, and if anything defines the contemporary city in Montreal, it is the Metro.

A dream for the first half of the 20th century, construction of the Metro began in the early 1960s. The initial network of 25 stations, opened in 1966, typified a halcyon period in Montreal architecture: this was inventive, unselfconscious and adventurous architecture of international calibre. Each station had its own identity, the trains rolled on silent rubber tires and Montreal’s Underground City, more topographic circumstance than architectural intention, grew along with the Metro in happy symbiosis. Four major extension projects undertaken over the last 40 years have created today’s system of 68 stations on four lines. Building underground presupposed a certain solidity and produced outstanding station design at Peel and Champde-Mars, exemplary in their integration of art; and at Prfontaine and Lasalle, notable respectively for their generous skylighting and expressive geometry. The most recent extension to the system prolongs the northern line off the Island of Montreal into the suburban satellite city of Laval.

The Laval extension is a coming of age for the Metro. Suburbia was young and innocent when the Metro was first built and city and suburb were not the antagonists they are now. The debate surrounding the Laval extension underscores the fundamental divisions between urban and suburban culture in Montreal–divisions not uncommon to most North American cities. Is the new Metro in Laval a panacea of urban complexity that will temper suburban banality or is it the introduction of urban decadence into the suburban pastoral? From the panacea side we have the arguments of planners and architects advocating transit-oriented development and pedestrianfriendly nodes; from the decadence side come hysterical populist warnings of a portal of entry for street gangs and urban violence. More interesting than the denouement of this debate, however, is the manner in which it presents the Metro as a conceptual support for a wide spectrum of interest groups and social aspirations. Sharing space among multiple users and creating inclusive environments that celebrate diversity are the basic functions of public space in a civil society.

Subways offer a clear expression of the cultural identity of the cities they serve. The London and Paris subways, the oldest and largest in the world, are evocative symbols of Old Europe: vast, tightly knit, historically rich but aging infrastructures that require continuous upkeep to maintain their connection to the modern city. Moscow’s chandelier-lit, marble-clad subway, one of the busiest and most beautiful in the world, graphically illustrates the contradictions of the Soviet regime that built it. This is doctrinaire social realism at its strangest–the most collective of spaces in the workers’ utopia were rendered in an aristocratic vocabulary as ornate, neo-Classical palaces. Asian cultures consider the subway more as a machine or a process than a physical artifact and the complex systems in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Seoul are notable as much for their sophisticated electronic controls and digital lighting as their architecture. Latin America has always had its own sense of urbanity: So Paulo’s subway rivals Montreal and Madrid as a champion of contemporary design, and Mexico City’s subway is renowned for its integration of archaeology and for its signage–a system of pictograms that engages modernity, pre-Columbian art and the challenge of illiteracy.

The three new stations in Laval are well served by the Metro’s longstanding tradition of different architects designing each station. The alternative approach–standardized station design–has had mixed results. In Bilbao, Spain, an elegant all-Norman Foster subway is quietly rivalling Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum as a catalyst of urban renewal; in Toronto, the subway’s uniform public washroom look recalls the parsimonious efficiency of “Toronto the Good” from days gone by.

Bisson et associs, who were responsible for the design of the first new station, Cartier, also added a new platform to the former terminus, Henri-Bourassa. Both of these schemes use sober, modular ceramic panelling systems in stainless steel frames to structure their design. The Henri-Bourassa platform takes a page from contemporary Asian subways by featuring a continuous orange light integrated into the modular wall panels–a literal, but not unpoetic, reference to the colour code of this Metro line. The emphasis on creative lighting is reinforced by a digital light sculpture by artist Axel Morgenthaler that doubles as interactive directional signage.

Planned as an intermodal node that creates a focal point in an unstructured landscape, the second of the new stations, de la Concorde, designed by Martin + Marcotte architectes, ties together the Metro, a major traffic artery, a suburban train station and a park-and-ride. Described by its architects as an “underground cathedral,” the station is an intriguing take on a classic peristyle hall–soaring columns support a spacious concrete cube, freeing its perimeter to become a continuous skylight. Stairs on opposite sides of the platform open generously to each other, maximizing human contact through space. This circulation pattern recalls an architectural paradigm of a bygone social order–Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera–and argues that “seeing and being seen” is a universal human imperative that transcends history.

The limited palette of finishes and interior details of de la Concorde station are accomplished minimalism–glazed blue ceramic and black granite play against neutral, sandblasted concrete and three great circular openings in the concrete walls confer a quiet monumentality to the ensemble. The project architects’ interest in the timelessness of Louis Kahn is evident–this is a powerful and simple design that has the potential to become a classic among Montreal Metro stations.

The third station and new terminus, Montmorency, designed by Giasson Farregut architectes, is strategically located
at the crossroads of two major traffic arteries. The station serves a sprawling community college, provides a direct link to a new regional bus terminal, and features broad, well-lit stairways and a colourful approach to finishes. Parking spaces in the generous park-and- ride are offered free of charge as a public transit incentive. Despite its calling as a harbinger of a new way of life on the edge of the city, Montmorency station limits its urbanity to abstract concerns of function and infrastructure, while the scale, organization and architectural expression of the station are resolutely suburban. The project’s references to commercial architecture– big box stores, gas stations, billboard signage, strip malls–find expression in the flat pressure plates and pastel spandrel panels of curtain walls; in robustly exaggerated awnings; in masonry walls canted to suggest dynamism; in volumes inflated like Wild-West faades in relentlessly horizontal landscapes. Observing suburban projects like this, it is facile to attribute such bombast to wayward consumerism or poor judgement, particularly when a Venturi-inspired exploration has not been engaged. But suburbia is not so benign: in frontier suburban development, the visceral need to dominate the landscape with buildings is a collective force much greater than the talents of individual architects. Canada’s wilderness complex, that series of defensive behaviour patterns developed to deal with the great unknown of our northern expanses, only exacerbates the suburban land-grab in the Canadian context, accentuating the brutality with which sprawl conquers the land.

What happens above ground to subway stations is of particular interest when they reach out to suburbia. At Cartier and Montmorency, the automobile is dominant, building volumes are self-referential and the architecture is rhetorical. New streets with expansive vehicular rights of way and little differentiation in the ground plane have created broad mineral expanses and sprawling landscapes. De la Concorde station concentrates its energy on its great underground room and treats its surface-level spaces with modest intelligence. The level change created by the railway underpass is used to break down traditional suburban horizontality and the resulting movement pattern generates the pedestrian approaches to the station. On a second, higher level, the railway platform slides elegantly under an overhanging roof of the Metro aedicule. Putting the pedestrian first in its outdoor spaces is as important an achievement of this station as its dramatic underground hall.

The Laval extension is a phenomenal success in terms of ridership, far surpassing initial projections. The three new stations are frequented by all walks of life, and few public spaces in Montreal are as socially diverse or dynamic. While on the surface, we are a long way from Norman Foster’s glass tubes delicately inserted into the fabric of Bilbao, patience is advised. The fundamental first step towards urbanity–the establishment of a transit-based, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure–has been taken, and it is only a matter of time before the city prevails. With this primary layer in place, more ephemeral layers of architecture can be built, reconsidered, criticized and rebuilt again.CA

Gavin Affleck is a partner in the Montreal-based firm Affleck + de la Riva Architects. He has been a contributing editor of Canadian Architect since 2004.

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PROJECT DE LA CONCORDE METRO STATION CLIENT AGENCE MTROPOLITAINE DE TRANSPORT (AMT) ARCHITECT MARTIN + MARCOTTE ARCHITECTES ARCHITECT TEAM ANDR MARCOTTE, MARIE-CLAUDE LEBLOND, ROBERT MARTIN, JOSEPH SKAFF, ERIC MASS, GRARD SCHIRMER, ROBERT ROBITAILLE STRUCTURAL, MECHANICAL & ELECTRICAL TECSULT LANDSCAPE DAA PAYSAGE, MUNICONSULT INTERIORS MARTIN + MARCOTTE ARCHITECTES CONTRACTOR EBC INC. (EXCAVATION AND TUNNEL), OPRON INC. (STATION), SIMARD BEAUDRY INC. (LANDSCAPING AND INTERIOR EQUIPMENT) PUBLIC ART YVES GENDREAU AREA 7,000 M2 BUDGET $40 M COMPLETION MAY 2007

PROJECT CARTIER METRO STATION AND BUS TERMINAL CLIENT AGENCE MTROPOLITAINE DE TRANSPORT (AMT) ARCHITECT BISSON FORTIN ET ASSOCIS ARCHITECTES ARCHITECT TEAM RICHARD A. FORTIN, CHRISTIAN BISSON, DOMINIC LAFORCE, ANDRE NAUD, EVANGELOS TZANETAKOS, LAN-GIAO VO, JEANMICHEL TEULE, REN CHEVALIER, YANN LEROUX, ISABELLE DERAGON STRUCTURAL, MECHANICAL & ELECTRICAL TECSULT, SNC-LAVALIN LANDSCAPE DANIEL ARBOUR ET ASSOCIS PART OF GROUPEMENT SGTM INTERIORS BISSON FORTIN ET ASSOCIS PART OF GROUPEMENT SGTM CONTRACTOR POMERLEAU (SUBWAY STATION AND BUS TERMINAL), LOUISBOURG (CONCESSIONS BUILDING, CANOPIES AND LANDSCAPING) AREA 8,000 M2 BUDGET $60 M COMPLETION APRIL 2007

PROJECT MONTMORENCY STATION AND BUS TERMINAL CLIENT AGENCE MTROPOLITAINE DE TRANSPORT (AMT) ARCHITECT GIASSON FARREGUT ARCHITECTES ARCHITECT TEAM GUILLERMO FARREGUT, MARIE-JOSE BARBEAU, EMMANUELLE KLIMPT STRUCTURAL, MECHANICAL & ELECTRICAL TECSULT LANDSCAPE DANIEL ARBOUR ET ASSOCIS INTERIORS GIASSON FARREGUT ARCHITECTES CONTRACTOR POMERLEAU AREA 8,000 M2 BUDGET $59 M COMPLETION APRIL 2007




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Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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