The Hybrid Campus

PROJECT Pavillon Lassonde, Universit de Montral, Montreal, Quebec

ARCHITECT Saia Barbarese Topouzanov architectes/Desnoyers Mercure et associs/MEnks Shooner Dagenais architectes

TEXT Lola Sheppard

PHOTOS Marc Cramer and Alain Laforest

University campuses typically exist within one of two key traditions. The first is the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the “pastoral” university removed from the city and organized around a central campus green or a series of smaller quadrants forming the physical and social focal points of the campus. The other tradition is the urban campus where buildings sit within an urban fabric with little open public space other than the space of the city itself. The Universit de Montral, master-planned by Ernest Cormier in 1942, sits on the northern slopes of Mount Royal and exists as a hybrid of these two models–an acropolis of sorts–composed of freestanding pavilions on a steeply sloping site with little usable exterior public space.

The Pavillon Lassonde is part of the cole Polytechnique, the prestigious engineering school affiliated with the Universit de Montral, and was completed last year by Saia Barbarese Topouzanov architectes with Desnoyers Mercure et associs and Menks Shooner Dagenais architectes1. Located adjacent to Cormier’s iconic arts and science building, the Pavillon Lassonde ingeniously internalizes the pastoral campus “quad” into a fundamentally urban building. The building acknowledges the nature of the Universit de Montral’s campus, its unique topographic conditions, and the harsh realities of the Montreal winter by creating a sequence of interior public spaces that establish a new vertical campus for the cole Polytechnique. From its inception, the building also took on the mandate to develop environmentally advanced design strategies.

The new Pavillon Lassonde houses the departments of electrical and computer engineering, computer studies, IT services, a library, classrooms, computer laboratories, a caf and an exhibition hall. At 350,000 square feet, the building could easily become unwieldy in its organization were it not for its clear spatial and programmatic stratification.

The seven-storey building is a long structure embedded into the steep slope of Mount Royal. One enters at the low point of the building, and at its highest level, the pavilion connects through an underground tunnel to the existing Polytechnique building. The architects describe the program as a series of geological layers that peel away and shift to serve several functions: it allows the building to subtly address the steep topography and the curving road which bounds it to the west as well as creating a series of roof terraces, each associated with key program elements that provide extraordinary views overlooking the city.

The building is structured around two axes of movement extrapolated from the surrounding context. Two “canyons” run lengthwise on the eastern and western edges of the building while a central void connects these canyons, bisecting the building in its other direction. Programmatically, the building is organized into a series of horizontal strata: classrooms are weighted at the lower levels, offices and labs in the middle and the more serene collective spaces of library, reading room and rooftop gardens are located on the upper levels. The spaces, both in their use of colour and their sectional characteristics, become loftier as one moves up the building. The intelligence of the organization lies in its inversion of the typical public building: by placing the most public spaces towards the top, the user is incited to move up through the internal landscape of the central void.

One enters the building from the larger eastern “canyon” which contains the public promenade of the building that winds its way up the natural slope of the site, varying its section along its length to provide an articulated spatial experience. Unfortunately, the western canyon facing the original Cormier building remains far less legible spatially.

Entering the eastern circulation “canyon” at the lowest level, the visitor is transported by escalator to the bisecting central void two storeys up, to a piano nobile of sorts. Adorned with imposing portraits of university presidents, this fundamentally modern space acknowledges the traditional, ceremonial main hall of university buildings. From this point onwards, the user is led through a vertiginous path up the vertical campus. Stairs and escalators act as spatial vectors which pierce the large void, transporting the visitor upward in a seductive choreography of movement. As one continues to move up the void, each program element overlooks the main void, emphasizing the latter as the physical focal point of the building.

Intended to train future engineers, the new Pavillon Lassonde was conceived of as role model of advanced energy performance and an environmentally responsible learning environment. cole Polytechnique is the first university institution in Canada to obtain LEED certification from the USGBC (US Green Building Council). The energy performance of the Lassonde buildings is 60 percent better than the standard set by the Model National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings and the building was awarded LEED Gold certification.

The building uses water efficiently through passive and active means; green roof areas absorb part of the storm water while an underground water reservoir stores water for toilets. Combined with water-efficient fixtures, the building generates a 92 percent reduction in municipal water consumption. Similarly, the building generates a 53 percent reduction in design energy costs through several strategies. Heat is recovered from existing boilers in the main pavilion of cole Polytechnique de Montral to provide heating for the new pavilion. As a result, the building’s systems respond exclusively to cooling requirements. Sensors adapt quantities of fresh air based on occupancy and CO2 concentrations. Similarly, light fixtures operate on sensors, based on occupancy and existing daylight levels.

The building is clad in bands of glass and a yellow brick, the de facto material for the Universit de Montral and UQAM campuses in Montreal. The faades of the building are treated as a series of bands, whose dimensions are in direct response to sun exposure, internal lighting and heat load requirements. Despite the admirable functionalist approach to the building envelope, the result is a somewhat relentless banding of the faade, and a series of strange misalignments reduce the brick to the appearance of wallpaper. This honesty in the faade works more successfully in the glass curtain wall that steps back with the building mass while becoming a code for the various public zones within.

Despite a limited budget and bare-bones finishes, the architects succeed in creating a sensuous interior landscape through the use of bold colours. Classrooms and work spaces remain neutral, while hallways and public spaces are saturated with solid colours on the walls, floors and ceilings. Each programmatic level is colour-coded, beginning with red and orange, shifting to vibrant green and ending in sky blue for the library. This coding serves as an orientation device within the main interior void, marking the threshold from one program element to the next. The use of daylight in the central void, hallways and library is beautifully calibrated, leaving each of these public spaces bathed in coloured daylight.

The greatest disappointment of the project is the landscape and the relationship of the building to its exterior. It is surprising that one can only enter the building from the lower-level campus, despite numerous potential entry points at the upper levels. The building, with its remarkable siting and circulation “canyons,” holds the potential to be a circulation spine within the larger campus–it is disappointing that this is not better explored. Also, the building might also have questioned the relati
onship of campus building to exterior public spaces. As the project staggers down the slope, a series of exterior terraces and public spaces to complement the remarkable interior landscape could have been implemented. The steps and landscape on the western side of the building are equally underwhelming. However, a second phase to the east of the Pavillon Lassonde is anticipated, so perhaps the opportunity to continue with the development of this space still exists.

If the exterior landscaping remains underdeveloped, the interior landscape of this vertical campus is remarkable. The Pavillon Lassonde succeeds in being contextual and bold, spatially sophisticated, yet diagrammatically clear. With a refreshing graphic and spatial fearlessness, it is in its questioning and inventiveness vis–vis the modern urban campus that the Pavillon Lassonde is most satisfying and provocative.

Lola Sheppard is a partner of Lateral Architecture and assistant professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture.

1 In May 2004, shortly after the project began, the firm changed its name to Menks Shooner Dagenais Letourneux architectes.

Client cole Polytechnique de Montral

Architect team Anne-Sophie Allard, Eda Ascioglu, Catherine Blanger, Marie-Christine Bellon Manzi, Alain Boudrias, David Comtois, Patrick de Barros, Guillaume deLorimier, Robert Dequoy, Dominique Dumont, Marie-ve thier Chiasson, Sylvain Gagn, Cline Gaulin, Pierre Gervais, David Griffin, Franois Hbert, Martin Houle, Jean-Franois Jodoin, Andr Kirchhoff, Marc-Antoine Larose, Josiane Mac, Yvan Marion, Nadia Meratla, Andr J. Mercure, Luc Montpetit, Marc Pape, Amlie Paquin, Annie Paradis, Joanne Parent,Marie-ve Parent, Marie-ve Primeau, Gaetan Roy, Isabelle Roy, Mario Saia, Anik Shooner, Yvon Thoret, Vladimir Topouzanov, Bach Qui Tran, Sam Yip, Josef Zorko

Structural Pasquin St-Jean et Associs

Mechanical/Electrical Bouthillette Parizeau & Associs/Pageau Morel & Associs

Landscape Williams, Asselin, Ackaoui & Associs

Interiors Saia et Barbarese/Desnoyers Mercure et associs/Menks Shooner Dagenais architectes

Traffic Consultant Groupe Sguin experts-conseils inc.

Green Architecture Consultant Lyse Tremblay arch. LEED AP

Contractor Le Groupe Axor

Area 350,000 ft2

Budget: $80 M

Completion 2005