Unity 2

Architect Atelier Big City

Location Montreal, Quebec

Unity 2 is a new housing development in the Paper Hill neighbourhood of downtown Montreal. Sited atop an existing underground parking garage on an irregular corner site where Saint-Alexandre and Viger meet, the building sits immediately south of the original Unity Building which is classified as an historic monument. Responding to the scale and detailing of the original Unity, the form and siting of Unity 2 completes an urban block and establishes a new semi-public courtyard.

In Atelier Big City’s desire to intensify the public experience of city spaces and to extend the public domain, Unity 2 draws the public into the courtyard, integrating addresses into this space. In a similar vein, a second-storey commercial venue is accessed through the main entry hall, and the building becomes a dynamic hub of various activities.

There are five main unit typologies in Unity 2, differentiated as they ascend up the vertical structure. Ground-oriented courtyard townhouses transition to the stacked and flipped flow-through two-storey lofts and their studio counterparts, finally finishing with inverted penthouse units which are topped, finally, with a green roof. The use of flow-through and double-height units greatly increases the potential for apartments to be naturally daylit and ventilated. In addition, such unit typologies enable a variety of public and private conditions in this dense neighbourhood.

One of the fundamental design challenges in this project was to integrate a complex exiting system for the building which would enable the creation of cross-ventilated double-height units without excess space requirements or multiple stair shafts. Consequently, egress spaces become shared common space where the public exit corridor aligns with private terraces.

The cornice that caps Unity 2 is aligned with that of the original Unity Building; the overall intention is a subtle reinterpretation of its tripartite composition. Unity 2’s faade was conceived as a screen that would evoke the appearance of the original printing factories in a contemporary manner. An additional rhythm created by the flipping of double-height living spaces helps blur the differences in floor heights between the two buildings while maintaining related residential scales. All of the two-storey units contain a double-height lighting slot, permitting daylight to penetrate deeper into the interior.

A very simple set of rules underlies the compositions of the faade: each unit is glazed entirely except for a brick panel corresponding to the living room fireplace. One side of this tripartite unit faade rhythm is a double-height window that allows natural light to penetrate deep into the building’s volume. To create a woven pattern on the faades, wherever possible units above are flipped. This creates the staggered relationship from one group of apartments to the next.

Peter Busby: This is an excellent urban interaction of space in the heart of Montreal. We like the quality and variety of unit types, based on research. The original, modernist faades use standard materials on a modest budget. The innovation continues with the egress stair providing spatial joy for all. A great housing project fashioned from a low budget.

Client Les Developpements D’arcy Mcgee Ltee

Architect Team Randy Cohen, Anne Cormier, Howard Davies, Pierre Gendron, Patrick Morand, Thierry Beaudoin, Patrick-Hugh Tiernam, Lauren Abrahams, Elizabeth Bouchard, Oliver Schanz

Structural Dahl, Marzin Inc.

Mechanical/Electrical Blondin Fortin Inc.

Envelope Consultant Jacques Benmussa, Architecte

Code Le Groupe CSB

Specifications Paul Cartier, Architecte

Acoustics Produits Acoustiques PN Inc.

Contractor Les Developpements D’Arcy McGee Ltee

Area 11,000 M2

Budget N/A

Completion Fall 2005

Photography Alain Laforest