June 27, 2018
by David Theodore
One of Montreal’s inconspicuous urban garden projects just got some stunning architectural updates. Through a program called Jardins-jeunes—Youth Gardens— summer kids from eight to fifteen years old have a chance to cultivate a modest plot of land in the Jardin botanique (Botanic Garden), just north of the Olympic Stadium. “It’s this crazy place in the city where kids have been harvesting food for almost 80 years,” says architect Eric Majer.
The Jardin botanique is part of Montreal Space for Life, billed as the largest natural science museum complex in Canada. To celebrate Jardin-jeunes’ anniversary last year, the Jardin Botanique commissioned Majer to design two photogenic wooden pavilions, replacing seasonal tents with permanent structures. Majer worked closely with structural engineers Roger Bartosh and René Delrue at Montreal-based BCA Consultants to create the distinctive roof. The technical development was a “conversation,” he says, with suggestions and ideas validated quickly on both sides. “It’s an exposed structural system,” adds Majer, “so that was an attractive aspect for the engineers. I think we were all excited to be creating something out of the ordinary.”
The design they came up with is thoughtfully convoluted, inviting the kids to delight in a complexity of construction details. Both pavilions are skinned in polycarbonate panels. A modest black-and-green service pavilion holds gardening equipment and supplies. The bigger piece comprises a canted roof made up of cedar supports and glulam beams that flies over the 350 m2 assembly pavilion shelter. The result is a place-making icon that shelters kids from the summer sun, and celebrates roof building beyond the bare essentials.
Majer does not shy away from expressing the largest possible hopes for this delicate local project. “The discovery of a simple agrarian landscape, when it just happens to be in the middle of a busy metropolis,” says Majer, “sends a message both radical and traditional.” For him, the mixture of architecture and agriculture is fertile ground for a manifesto. “I see the commission as promoting local food production as well as community mobilization,” he says, “and in doing so, defending the quality of our built, natural, and cultivated environments.” The world needs more of these small-budget, big-idea buildings.
David Theodore, MRAIC is Canada Research Chair at the McGill University Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture.