Viewpoint (October 01, 2003)

Montrealers have a legacy to uphold. Melvin Charney noted almost 25 years ago, “Montreal is one of the great cities of the world with the destiny of an urban culture profoundly inscribed in its form.” This month’s issue on Montreal architecture comes as the city witnesses the construction of new university buildings, strategic to and a view to stitching together disparate parts of the city. However, with the recent change in the Quebec government, policies that support the resurgence of architectural activity in Montreal are in jeopardy. And Quebec is not alone in this regard. Ontario voters have recently elected a new government and a new Mayor for Toronto will be voted in next month. Within the current structure that defines the relationship between municipal and provincial governments across Canada, establishing a vision for urban issues remains frustrating. Government agencies at various levels continue to affect policies that often contradict each other in the creation of urban design initiatives. The fact that the previous Ontario government avoided critical issues in cities, such as affordable housing and the special needs of urban schools, indicated a lack of vision. As many commissions and urban redevelopment projects rely on public funding from government, architects must be familiar with current policies directing the commission, tender, finance and management of projects.

For example, this past summer, the Ontario Realty Corporation (ORC) held a flawed competition for a veteran’s memorial in Toronto, which was to be placed adjacent to the new Faculty of Pharmacy building at the University of Toronto. The original selection process did not assume the format of a conventional open competition and placed undue demands on the participants. The process that the ORC undertook is a reminder to be vigilant. As architects, we must not only regulate our own profession, but also the effects of public policy on the value of our roles in the service to, and development of, the quality of our built environment.

Meanwhile, it was the architectural community in Quebec that balked at the original terms of the original process for the selection of an architect for the addition to the Palais des congrs de Montral. Before the selection process was altered, the message put forward by architects in Quebec was clear: governments must allow architects to deliver an appropriate level of professional service. Being proactive is an important aspect of the architect’s work, especially when involved in projects that have a considerable impact on the city. Quebec architects made themselves heard and the Socit Immobilire du Qubec (SIQ) made revisions to the process of selecting an architect for the Palais des congrs, while realizing that other policy change must better understand local conditions and project delivery methods.

Finally, a special thanks goes out to Paul Reuber for his six-year contribution to this magazine with his Travel Diary. Starting this month, we will be replacing Paul’s Travel Diary with a new department called Insites. The department will discuss various cultural phenomena that suggest a sensibility to architecture and urban design in Canada. Ian Chodikoff