Canadian Architect

Feature

Strategic Urbanism

A survey of techniques and strategies to redevelop a former industrial sector adjacent to Old Montreal.

October 1, 2003
by Ian Chodikoff

The Cit Multimdia is located at the westernmost limit of Old Montreal, known as the Faubourg des Rcollets. Its current urban design plan was initially completed in 1990, but the collapse of the real estate market during most of the 1990s meant that it was not until 1998 that new construction began to solidify a vision for the neighbourhood. Bordered by the Lachine canal to the south, Ottawa Street to the north, Old Montreal proper to the east and the Bonaventure Freeway to the west, this former industrial sector once completed will cover an area of 300,000 square metres. Carried out in eight phases, Cit Multimdia is grouped into four complexes that anchor the site and set the template for a network of pedestrian passageways connecting the larger complexes with a series of interior courtyards and public spaces. The plan calls for the redevelopment of rue McGill to the east of the neighbourhood with new commercial space, shops, hotels, and restaurants. Along the western portion of the site, new offices would form a protective armature adjacent to the Bonaventure expressway. A concentration of high-density housing and commercial activities along rue de la Commune would define the southern edge. Collectively, these elements form a simple strategy of connecting the Faubourg des Rcollets to Old Montreal to the east and the Old Port to the south, while mitigating the effects of the highway to the west.

Aurle Cardinal of Groupe Cardinal Hardy describes the plan as a preservation of the original morphology of the district (dense agglomeration of buildings, tight street grid, and building heights and massing that originated in the 19th century). New construction was to derive its architectural language from the original buildings and advocate a strategy of adaptive re-use where warranted.

Cit Multimdia of Montreal is comprised of a group of businesses working in the information technology and multimedia fields. These organizations occupy commercial office space in buildings held by a consortium made up of the SDM (Socit de dveloppement de Montral), the SITQ Immobilier–a subsidiary of the Caisse de dpt et placement du Qubec, and the SOLIM–a real estate branch of the Fonds de solidarit FTQ. The neighborhood was made possible through a variety of public-private initiatives, which include various financial and tax incentives offered by the Quebec government. As a survey of the area, a few buildings are worthy of discussion to provide a sense of how urban design strategies have been incorporated into architectural responses.

Cit Multimdia Phase IV

The Cit Multimdia Phase IV office building by the Consortium Cardinal Hardy Provencher Roy et associs at the intersection of Duke and Wellington streets is an amalgamation of new and existing construction. To maintain the scale of the neighbourhood, the complex retains the original four-storey masonry building at the corner. The upper storeys are an assemblage of a more contemporary-looking steel and glass. The Prince Street elevation to the east provides a clear expression of linking the past with the present through a composition of new and existing building components mediated by a garden or “programmed forest” (a term used by the landscape architects) and a caf-terrasse at the entry.

The adjacent highway influences the articulation of the western part of the building. Roch Cayouette of Cardinal Hardy explains that the building’s design consciously establishes a dialogue between the expressway and the neighbourhood while the horizontal banding on the upper floors is meant to express movement. The very physical and dynamic massing is supposed to create a visual landmark and demarcate an entrance into the Cit.

Quai de la Commune

The Quai de la Commune project by Groupe Cardinal Hardy is reminiscent of some of the recent projects in the Yaletown district of Vancouver. The various buildings, whether extant or new, utilize large floorplates and are influenced by the industrial aesthetic of the loading docks and warehouses that once existed in the neighbourhood. Begun in 1998, the entire block includes five phases of construction and close to 325 housing units covering a total of over 40,000 square metres. The complex incorporates many interesting architectural strategies that strengthen a mixed-use, more pedestrian-friendly scale in the neighbourhood by allowing ground-floor units leading directly onto the street, variegated faades at street level, a simple material palette applied in a variety of forms, and an allowance for light and visual access into the courtyard within the centre of the block.

The series of incremental phases of construction juxtaposes brick and exposed concrete masonry units as an intermediary material between the existing and new brick faades while providing added depth and relief to the buildings’ appearance. Concrete block is also deployed along rue des Surs-Grises where residential units occupy spaces where loading docks once existed. Steel detailing is used to add a layer of definition to the various residential phases by forming datum lines, balconies, guardrails and an overall finer grain of urban design to the evolving land-use of the neighbourhood. In some locations, the original window sills were dropped and steel was added to clearly show the new intervention while ensuring that the windows, often with Juliet balconies, were kept as wide as possible for the tenants. Each of the building’s interiors attempts to incorporate the strategy of expressing the industrial character of the neighborhood by exposing load-bearing structural members such as concrete columns, steel members or mechanical equipment. The stripped-down industrial look produced by the use of raw materials such as steel and concrete is softened by the use of wood and ambient lighting throughout.

Each of the five phases involves a specific concept, or a combination of several strategies. The two former warehouses along rue des Surs-Grises (Phases I and II) made full use of the buildings’ large floor plates and high ceilings. Phase III on Rue de la Commune, distinctively-shaped building, uses the overt geometry of the parallelepiped to demarcate the border of Old Montreal. Built on a scale in the industrial tradition of connected annexes, the row of 10 three-storey houses in Phase IV are a hybrid between townhouses and a series of connected industrial studios. The project includes back terraces on the second floor with patios opening into the courtyard behind. Phase V is currently being completed, employing many design aspects contained in previous phases which include access to commercial and residential units directly from the street, increased depth of the faade with brick and concrete block, and employing steel detailing to refine an overall design intent.

Cit Multimdia Phase VIII

Perhaps the most visually striking building in Cit Multimdia is on the corner of Duke and Brennan by Menks Shooner Dagenais/ Dupuis LeTourneux Architecte. Due to a recent shift in the high-tech industry, the 35,000 m2 building built at a cost of $33.8 million sits woefully empty. Recently, it has been used both as a temporary exhibition space and for film crews on location.

The building is composed of two volumes joined by a dramatic atrium that acts as a pedestrian walkway leading into the Cit. The five-storey building along rue Prince acknowledges the context of the neighbourhood. It is clad with brick on the lower four storeys and is punctuated by a series of large windows that approximates the proportions of the existing industrial buildings in the area. At first glance the portion of the building along rue Brennan appears to take a common approach to office building design. But upon further investigation, the convergence of its faade toward the corner of the site, the clear expression of its structure and the juxtaposition of metal panels, glass, steel and wood detailing allow this building to express a finely-resolved, well-detailed faade that enables a simple plan to accommodate a variety of potential tenants. This much-noted west elevation along Bren
nan includes a grid of etched glass that changes dramatically throughout the day and night. The faade also reacts to the freeway through the incorporation of a variety of horizontal elements and the provision of a counterpoint to a static, understated portion of the project along rue Prince.

In the Future

It appears that the original urban design plan proposed by Cardinal Hardy and Provencher Roy is taking root. The three large architectural interventions, along with Lemay et associs’ recent project on the corner of King and Queen, have provided the Cit Multimdia with sufficient critical mass to generate additional architectural interventions that will continue to define the neighbourhood and ensure its viability through subsequent economic cycles. Seeing the office building on Brennan and Duke completely empty is a reminder that the success of Cit Multimdia depends on a variety of commercial, residential and recreational uses. Because Cit Multimdia is well on its way to maturation as a neighbourhood, it won’t be long before the area’s vacancy rate drops while its vibrancy increases.