Maxwell M. Kalman A Centennial Retrospective

May 30, 2006 marks the 100th birthday of Montreal architect Maxwell M. Kalman. To celebrate this event, the McGill University School of Architecture, his alma mater, is hosting an exhibit of a selection of his architectural projects of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.

Kalman was born in Montreal and grew up in the neighbourhoods that straddle Saint-Laurent Boulevard. A graduate of Baron Byng High School in 1923, he had a passion for drawing and an interest in building throughout his teenage years. After working in New York and studying architecture at Columbia University, he returned to Montreal to complete his degree at McGill’s School of Architecture. Kalman graduated in 1931, at the height of the depression. As the architectural firm Ross and Macdonald, where he worked as a student, was forced to close its doors due to hard times, he launched his own practice with small residential projects and alterations to existing buildings.

By the mid-1930s, Kalman had developed a reputation for providing high-quality, diversified architectural services, and before long he was busier than ever designing affordable duplexes and triplexes, prestigious private residences, mixed commercial-residential structures (such as Steinberg’s stores with apartments above), commercial buildings, industrial structures, community centres (like the Workmen’s Circle Centre, now the Sala Rosa, at 4848 Saint-Laurent Boulevard), and religious and institutional edifices (like the Jewish People’s School, now the Collge Franais, at Waverly Street and Fairmount Avenue). Following the Second World War, he teamed up with partners and began to dabble in development while continuing to work for his many clients. In 1949, he designed Canada’s first shopping centre (Norgate) in Saint-Laurent, and others followed. During the postwar period, he designed and built scores of apartment buildings and single-family dwellings in response the urgent need for up-to-date, affordable housing. Simultaneously, he worked on posh residences and state-of-the-art office buildings (such as 550 Sherbrooke Street West). For his last projects before retiring in the early 1960s (the 4300 apartment complex in Westmount and the Town of Lorraine), he played the role of a developer with sound architectural experience and innovative new ideas.

Maxwell M. Kalman’s works, collectively an extraordinarily revealing testimony to Montreal’s everyday architecture of the prewar and postwar years, never made it into the architectural journals. Yet they were efficient in plan, carefully detailed, up-to-date in construction techniques, appropriate in materials, budget-conscious, and attentive to the needs and tastes of their clients.

The exhibit, Maxwell M. Kalman A Centennial Retrospective, includes present-day photographs by Jack Goldsmith and historic images of some 20 projects, as well as a video interview with the architect and a research document on each of the projects featured. It is open from 9:00am – 5:00pm, Monday through Friday, from May 31 until June 16, 2006. The School of Architecture is situated at the west side of the McGill University campus, 815 Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal.

Open to the public, a birthday and exhibit-opening celebration of Maxwell M. Kalman takes place on Tuesday, May 30, 2006, from 5:00 – 7:00pm. A slide presentation of Kalman’s work will take place at 6:00pm.