In Memoriam: Raouf Boutros (1947 – 2024)

Architect Raouf Boutros of Boutros + Pratte Architects passed away at the age of 76 on April 7, 2024.

LEFT: Les Quatre Arbres project | Photo credit: Odile Hénault | RIGHT: Raouf Boutros | Excerpt from interview on Les Quatre Arbres project, winner of a 2011 Award of Excellence in Architecture from the Ordre des architectes du Québec

On April 7, 2024, Quebec architect Raouf Boutros died suddenly. He was 76. I lost a dear friend, but the Quebec architectural community lost an important figure. Raouf’s relationship with architecture was passionate—if not obsessive—as he tried to turn every commission into a unique project.

Demanding on himself and on his collaborators, Raouf Boutros was to have a profound impact on Montreal, the city he adopted as a 19-year-old immigrant from the Middle East. A graduate from the Université de Montréal, he eventually joined forces with fellow architect Normand Pratte. Parallel to his practice, he taught at his alma mater, as well as at McGill’s School of architecture.

Les Quatre Arbres project by Boutros + Pratte. Photo © Robert Etcheverry

Boutros + Pratte’s award-winning partnership was to lead to significant accomplishments, building what architectural writer Rhys Phillips once described as “a series of public/private initiatives combining quality architecture and thoughtful urban design to rehabilitate badly frayed downtown districts” (CA, July 2006). Boutros + Pratte’s residential work, which went from small-scale housing to larger projects, derived from an “intent to assemble a plan and section that eschewed the typical double-hung slab with center hallways” as Phillips put it. It was characterized by Boutros’ decisive ‘war against the corridor,’ as he was reported saying.

Thanks to the strong personal relationship Raouf Boutros had established with Europa developer Jean-Pierre Houle, the firm was able to design several outstanding projects in Outremont and Old Montreal. Raouf’s interest in unchartered grounds also led to atypical projects such as Les Quatre Arbres, located on a less than ideal backyard site hidden behind a compact row of attached houses. The exquisite housing project that came out of the ground shed light on the firm as they received one of the Ordre des architects du Québec (OAQ)’s top awards in 2011.

Les Quatre Arbres project by Boutros + Pratte. Photo © Robert Etcheverry

On a different note—well representative of Raouf’s unexpected ways—there was the Adonis adventure. What started as a friendship between three young, ambitious Lebanese immigrants and himself eventually led to a series of highly successful grocery stores. Even though Raouf stopped working for the Adonis brand, at one point, its attractiveness can definitely be traced back to a unique relationship between client and architect.

Over the last decade and a half, as Raouf worked on his own under the name Atelier Raouf Boutros, he designed several housing cooperatives in Montreal, among them La Cité des bâtisseurs and the Coopérative des Bassins du Havre. He saw these mandates—carried out with a small staff and extremely tight budgets—as his personal contribution to a worthy social cause.

Le Nouvel Europa by Atelier Raouf Boutros. Photo © Robert Etcheverry

In his own way, Raouf was a magician of residential architecture, producing warm living spaces where he introduced a spatial vocabulary that few architects (or developers) are capable of today. Inspired by the work of the great Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy and by the architecture of his childhood, Raouf constantly sought to explore the possibilities offered by natural light, openings, level changes—anything that had the potential to transform a banal apartment into a joyful living experience.

Like Dan Hanganu, who also passed away all too soon, Raouf Boutros belonged to a unique group of architects who become obsessed with their work, often not keeping track of the innumerable hours they spend on a given project. Much to the satisfaction of their clients, perhaps, but not to the benefit of those around them. A few days before his passing, as I was trying to get in touch with Raouf, one of his colleagues informed me that he had just been discharged from hospital. The verdict was final. He then mentioned that Raouf would be in the office that very afternoon. I was speechless. He added: “That’s Raouf.” Indeed, that was Raouf.

Le Nouvel Europa by Atelier Raouf Boutros. Photo  © Robert Etcheverry

I know how attached he was to his wonderful family, to whom I offer my deepest condolences. For me, Raouf was a person always eager to explore and share ideas. He was also my most assiduous reader! He reacted to each of my articles, at times even annotating them to fuel our inevitable conversation over a coffee. I’ll miss his inquisitive mind and his warm friendship.