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Twenty + Change: Entremise, Montreal, Quebec

Entremise envisages short-term tenancies—from a few months to five years—becoming a normal part of the real-estate cycle.

Within a 1,100-square-metre warehouse, the Project Young pilot created working space for dozens of organizations and hosted a two-year-long program of community events. Photo by Entremise

In 2016, a group of four recent design graduates entered a City of Montreal ideas competition for redeveloping vacant spaces and protecting empty heritage buildings. It’s a problem that piqued their interest so much, they founded a firm to dive in deep.

Entremise has since evolved into an eight-person, non-profit social enterprise. Its current directors—architectural graduate Philemon Gravel, urban planning advisor Marie-Josée Vaillancourt, and architect Francis T. Durocher—hold a vision of vacant spaces occupied by community organizations, artists, and entrepreneurs. They envisage short-term tenancies—from a few months to five years—becoming a normal part of the real-estate cycle. In their vision, transitional occupancies are the first step towards longer-term leases, and sometimes even the purchase of a space. That initial phase gives occupants a chance to develop their business models and secure their financial footing. It’s a win-win. Tenants gain access to space, test their needs and build a network. Owners collect rent on buildings that would otherwise be empty, and gain occupants to watch over those spaces. 

Within a 1,100-square-metre warehouse, the Project Young pilot created working space for dozens of organizations and hosted a two-year-long program Image by Entremise

In 2017, the new enterprise had a chance to put its ideas to the test with Projet Young, working in partnership with the City of Montreal, the McConnell Foundation, and the Maison de l’innovation sociale. The pilot project enabled 35 organizations to occupy a vacant warehouse in Griffintown during the 22 months before its scheduled demolition.

Within a 1,100-square-metre warehouse, the Project Young pilot created working space for dozens of organizations and hosted a two-year-long program of community events. Photo by Entremise
Within a 1,100-square-metre warehouse, the Project Young pilot created working space for dozens of organizations and hosted a two-year-long program of community events. Photo by Entremise

A second project involved developing a downtown storefront property for the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), dubbed Espace Ville Autrement. “It’s a co-working space for researchers and professionals in architecture, planning, and heritage—people who make the city differently,” explains Marie-Josée Vaillancourt. Entremise’s own office is headquartered in the storefront, which will be available for five years to research groups, workers, neighbourhood organizations, and people living in the area.

A mural by artist Rocio Perez adorns a building in Pointe-aux-Trembles, where a series of transitional occupations is being planned. Photo by Entremise

On the go currently are projects for a 540-square-metre commercial, cultural and community transitional hub in Pointe-aux-Trembles, with booths for vendors and community organizations, and the group’s biggest project yet—a transitional urban plant for the Cité-des-Hospitalières, a 3,700-square-metre city-owned heritage property which will be empty for a decade before its redevelopment.

A Jane’s Walk led by Entremise and its collaborators introduces Montrealers to the Tour d’aguillage Wellington, a railway traffic control station shuttered in 2000. Photo by Jean-Michael Seminaro

 The word “Entremise” is French for “go-between,” and the firm takes a lead role as an intermediary in these transactions—conducting feasibility studies for the occupation of buildings, carrying out needed renovations, holding the head lease, and matching up occupants to available spaces. While Entremise’s core work is real estate, architecture is a key skill set. “Architects are the ones that know the buildings, and can think outside the box to find solutions that work with the code,” says Vaillancourt. “But they have to think differently than what they learned in school.” 

Entremise’s architects and urbanists take a socially attuned approach to this work: “knowing the neighbourhood and the social ecosystem, and also working with what’s already there, not destroying everything.” Indeed, respecting the needs of people—and of the existing built environment—is at the core of the work. “Our dream is to develop a transitional strategy: a program that will systematically protect all empty heritage buildings,” says Vaillancourt. “It would be positive for buildings, and good for people, too.”

This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent

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