Canadian Architect

Feature

Newtown Renewal

A celebrity-owned restaurant's controversial name belies its considerable virtues as an accomplished piece of design.

September 1, 2001
by Michael Carroll

Newtown Restaurant and Bar, Montreal

Dupuis Le Tourneux Architectes

Contrary to Victor Hugo’s assertion in Notre-Dame de Paris that the book was to kill the building, it may be possible, in our media-savvy culture, that a single word can make not only a building but renew civic confidence. In Quebec, where the utterance of a single word can ignite controversy, Formula One race car driver Jacques Villeneuve’s naming of his restaurant Newtown–the literal English translation of his surname, and his nickname on the F1 circuit–created this past summer’s political provocation.

At the centre of the tempest stands Villeneuve’s architectural venture, a four-level, 18,000 square foot building on a double lot at the corner of Crescent Street and de Maisonneuve in downtown Montreal. As a refreshing point of departure, there is no hint of a themed sports restaurant or any explicit reference to race car culture. The architecture has a clean and contemporary expression that incorporates a historically listed stone faade.

At first glance, it seems awkward that the building does not make the basic urban gesture of turning the corner. However, as the historic faade indicates, this was not a corner lot in the traditional make-up of Crescent Street. It was not until the mid-1900s that adjacent properties were expropriated to make way for de Maisonneuve. From this historical viewpoint, the side elevation makes sense as an understated side wall. In turn, the basically flat limestone facades with long expanses of sliding doors are given relief by a large brise-soleil constructed of African mahogany slats. This screen serves to give the second level restaurant a more private environment in contrast to the bar and lounge area on the first level, which open completely to the two streets.

In a further effort to address Crescent Street, the building is set back to create a zone for a street-side terrace and an open stair that descends to a very hip subterranean dance club. The fourth level steps back again from the street to create an expansive rooftop patio that evokes a Mediterranean atmosphere.

Newtown’s interior finishes, basic spatial layout and structure are integrated to create a total design environment. The concrete slabs are cantilevered eight feet on two sides to avoid major structural underpinning of the south neighbour, and allow an uninterrupted seating area and glass wall on the building’s north side. The exterior brise-soleil is reflected in the use of interior screening devices and in the free-standing structure of the wine storage system that divides the second storey dining room. The result of this consistent design strategy is an understated tone evident on each of the four levels. Newtown’s overall expression is a confident presence consistent with an emerging body of work in Montreal that, in the end, is its most enduring political message.

Michael Carroll is based in Montreal as a partner of BUILD.

Clients: Jacques Villeneuve, Craig Pollock, Jean-Pierre Dacostali, Martin Poitras

Architect team: Jean-Pierre Le Tourneux, Benoit Dupuis, Paolo Zasso, Guy Fournier, Agnes Marcoux, Andr Prfontaine and Corinne Farazli

Structural: CIMA

Electrical: Scomatech Inc.

Mechanical: Luc Lapierrire, ingnieur conseil

Interiors: Foti-Drouin Designers

Kitchen: Alimex

Lighting: Franois Roupinian

Contractor: Andr Jauvin & Associs

Area: 1,675 m2

Budget: $3.5 million

Completion: May 2001

Photography: Alain Laforest