René Menkès (1932-2019)

Canadian architect René Menkès, founding principal of WZMH, passed away on October 7th in Montréal, at the age of 87.  Menkès was behind many projects that are part of Canada’s architectural heritage.

“I loved what I did, and I would do it again. Architecture is a rewarding profession,” said René Menkès, in a 1999 interview with Jim Donaldson.

A graduate of McGill University in 1955, René Menkès moved to New York where he worked  to acquire knowledge and experience in high-rise construction. His work was influenced by teachers including Gordon Webber and Arthur Lismer, and the work of some of his classmates, like Dimitri Dimakopoulos, who also practiced architecture with an innovative and bold approach.

When he returned to Montréal in 1961, Menkès co-founded the architectural firm Webb Zerafa Menkès Housden Partnership (WZMH). It would eventually become one of the Canada’s largest firms, with  offices in several major US cities and in Shanghai.

In 1994, after 25 years of practice, Menkès co-founded Menkès Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes. He brought his experience and knowledge—but above all, he instilled in the firm a humanistic vantage point that he felt was an essential aspect of architectural practice.

René Menkès was the lead designer behind projects including the Royal Bank Plaza (Toronto), the Cartier, the Guy-Favreau Complex, the National Bank of Paris in Montréal, BNP in Paris, Cathedral Square (KPMG tower), the Scotia Tower, the McGill tower and many others.

One of the last projects he worked on is the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, completed by Saucier + Perrotte with MSDL. Elsewhere in Canada, his projects include the Hilton and the Holiday Inn in Québec, Standard Life Building in Calgary, Lester B. Pearson in Ottawa and the London Convention Center.

René Menkès always recognized the value of teamwork. For him, a successful project is the result not only of good design, but also of close collaboration between architects, builders, contractors, engineers, developers, and many others. In addition to this fundamental belief in the strength of the team, René Menkès based his practice and professional relations on respect and ethics. He relied on listening, sharing, collaboration, and intelligence in his practice of architecture.

The office he occupied at the firm has now became a meeting room, respectfully and affectionately named Salle Menkes.

— Adapted from text provided by Menkès Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes