Transformable Vision

Project Chateaubriand Private Residence, Montreal, Quebec

Designer Jacques Bilodeau, Nature Humaine

Architect Marc-Andre Plasse

Text Michael Carroll

Photos Jacques Perron

Located in a narrow ruelle in the heart of Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, any outward signs of Jacques Bilodeau’s newest architectural intervention on rue Chateaubriand have been minimized. The project at street level is simply evidenced by a tough metal door which opens into a generous stairwell leading to the first floor of this 4,000-square-foot four-level loft. Although this is one of Bilodeau’s more “domesticated” projects, his innovative post-industrial sensibility is certainly present. Given that the previous occupant of the space was the now-neighbouring undertaking business, Bilodeau’s tempered response gives a nod to both the building’s bercool past and his client’s desire to create a thoroughly livable environment in the most understated fashion possible.

Given the insular, almost hermetic quality of the existing building, Bilodeau’s first job was to carve out openings and allow the building to breathe. In the completed project, this strategy is particularly evident in a 28-foot-long patio door located off the dining space that opens onto an exterior room–a generous patio lined with slatted wood screens. As well, expanses of glass block, skylights, large operable windows and balconies provide light and glimpses outside. To add to the airy quality of the project, a large grill in the second floor provides a visual connection to the floor below. But perhaps the project’s most memorable feature is a “vertical library” comprised of a steel and concrete stair combined with a scaffold-like guard/bookcase of metal construction that leads to a glass rooftop projection, bringing in ample light below and opening onto a splendid terrace with panoramic views of Mont-Royal. One gets the sense that the phoenix has truly risen from the ashes.

Similar to other Bilodeau projects, the loft’s monolithic gallery kitchen and island complete with a counter-height fireplace box is constructed from Bilodeau’s signature material–blackened sheet metal. Although on the surface, the Chateaubriand project feels like a fairly typical urban loft, Bilodeau’s artistic agenda to blur the lines between architecture, industrial design and art is present in the project’s finer details. As a case in point, one of his ongoing art projects entitled Transformables–comprised of vacuum-formed neoprene plastic panels, polystyrene beads and valves–crosses the art and design divide to become part of the Chateaubriand project. Because transformables by definition are infinitely adaptable, they make two appearances in the loft project. One of the transformables appears as a generous chaise longue (of sorts) hung from the ceiling–a kind of inhabitable sculpture that, given the previous occupant of the building, can be seen as a very cool body bag. As a more permanent installation in the loft, another transformable forms a white, slightly undulating, tactile drape for the front face of the kitchen’s sheet-metal island. One can imagine how this drape might mutate and billow.

As a continuation on the theme of transformation–the dining area is the project’s most unusual feature. Firstly, chairs have been eliminated, as the stepped oak floor with folded metal segments provides ample seating area. The dining room table itself is a chrome-plated, sheet-metal construction. It is comprised of a retractable elongated horizontal surface suspended from the ceiling on an overhead rail. The dining area is a kinetic assemblage that can be adapted to respond to the desired effect. Dinner for two can be accommodated by the cozy fireplace niche at one end of the space, or for a feast, the table can be fully extended to seat a dozen people or more. At a conceptual level, within Bilodeau’s table creation, furniture and architecture once again integrate and fuse to become another entity–floor furniture or sol-mobilier.

As a self-taught practitioner working on the margins, Jacques Bilodeau is an important figure in the Canadian design scene exactly because he is outside a traditional architectural perspective that more often than not is preoccupied with building codes and professional liability. His way of thinking and making shows us the potential of architecture to be engaging and transformative. In his work, the boundaries between industrial design, architecture and art overlap and fuse and in doing so, create something new, in the best sense of the word, because it breaks new ground and offers another realm of possibility. Recently, Bilodeau’s work was featured in the first edition of the Biennale de l’art contemporain du Havre entitled La Vie, La Ville, and his Transformables became the centre of attention for one of the city’s public squares. Hopefully, Bilodeau’s research centred on the idea of the transformable will continue to mutate, bridging across the art and architecture divide to infiltrate our cities in a permanent fashion–allowing us to experience the full range of his inventive transformative vision.

Michael Carroll is an adjunct professor at McGill University, a cofounder of atelier BUILD, and the recipient of the 2004 Professional Prix de Rome in Architecture.

Client Jocelyne Et Julia Legare, Gregoire Bodeson

Concept and Design Jacques Bilodeau

Design Team Jacques Bilodeau, Nature Humaine, Marc-Andre Plasse, Architecte

Structural D’aronco Et Associes

Mechanical R.C.S.Climatisation

Electrical Ronald Beaudoin

Interiors Amjinnov Construction

Contractor Jacques Legare

Other Specialist Consultants Francois Beroud Artworks, Stephane Bilodeau Ebenisterie

Area 4,000 FT2

Budget Withheld

Completion June 2006

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