Student Award of Excellence: Watercycle

Student Marie-Gil Blanchette, McGill University

Location Montreal, Quebec

Watercycle is a project that seeks to rethink water management specifically within the context of the city of Montreal. The architectural project attempts to create a link between the functional water treatment in the city–often invisible to the public eye–and the poetic celebration of water. This prototypical project treats snow, recycles residual grey water, and creates a new type of urban park. The spaces guide the visitor along a journey through which one discovers the process of filtration.

The site chosen for experimentation is the Craig Pumping Station located on rue Notre- Dame. Lying beneath the shadow of the Jacques- Cartier Bridge, the pumping station seems like a disconnected artifact. Although abandoned for nearly 30 years, its original use, when constructed in 1887, was to prevent spring-time flooding. Considering that Montreal becomes flooded with melting snow every year, the newly added program to the site becomes a reinterpretation of its original use. Snow collection has been managed by The City Since 1905. Before 1999, some Of The snow was directly discharged into the St. Lawrence River, but this process has been strictly forbidden for environmental reasons. Currently, snow is treated by different methods in Montreal, and all of them end at the water treatment plant. The project thus becomes an alternative to this process by modifying the existing cycle and integrating it into the city itself. Moreover, the project seeks to address the renewal of the neighbourhood and the progressive reappropriation of the river shores that are still undefined postindustrial zones in this area of the city.

The architectural intervention divides the site in two. One is a large dumping space and a longitudinal park that is laid out along the street’s axis. The dumping space is created by a large trench dug into the ground. Thus, the pumping station becomes a freestanding figure revealing its essence. The main access to the interpretation centre contains temporary and permanent exhibition spaces. Conceptually and physically, the interpretation centre acts as a filter between the city and the shore, whereas the urban park is a promenade along which different types of fountains, basins and irrigated gardens animate the space–all of which are fed by recycled grey water. The project adapts and changes its appearance through the seasons, waiting to be discovered and appreciated as much in winter as in summer. The topography of the park has been modified to enhance visual connectivity for visitors, as existing site conditions do not permit any visual and physical connection to the river. Most importantly, the urban park provides a new type of relationship between citizens, their water, and their city of Montreal.

Hariri: The beauty of this project is that the architect solves a very real problem. We want people to know what it takes to treat our water; we know this problem exists because we are dealing with these issues on Toronto’s own watercOnceptUal front. Students are doing better work than practitioners, and architecture, in its capacity to educate, is the only way forward.

Macy: Among students and those in the professional world–everyone is talking about sustainability and greening. The critics see a lot of green-wash where all the roofs are green, all the walls are biowalls. This raises a question about the relationship between nature, architecture and urbanism; it’s a fact that snow falls and we have to remove it, and it becomes polluted when it’s mixed with gas, car oil and debris, and then it has to be treated. So this project takes on the real problem between the interface of nature and urbanism, and it results in quite a hard-edged urban scheme. It is very impressive to see someone bite into a problem like this and define what is the architectural and urban form and how can it manifest itself in a positive way through these strip gardens. I think that it’s pretty sophisticated, forward-thinking and creative, and not something that’s about the status quo.

Thom: This project speaks of how to adopt another perspective on waste, and how to make something beautiful out of it.

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