BLOC. COUPE. TISSER. BLOCK. CUT. WEAVE.
Complexe Culturel et Administratif de Montréal | Design Competition | Montréal, Canada
“The distinctive feature of the construction program, which includes both ordinary and extraordinary elements, is that it forms a microcosm of the city. Lending credence to an urban project that reinforces the city’s fabric and develops its public qualities while allowing the unique elements of the program…to display a frank, expressive and contemporary architectural identity.”
– The Balmoral Block: Urban Integration and Heritage Study
Montreal…the city on the river, is a city in-between. It is a city of traders, a city at the crossroads. Between the old world and the new, Montreal reverberates along fluid borders between languages, customs, and cultures. The metamorphic rock on which the city stands was itself once fluid and molten, layered since with sediments of waterways, ice ages, and thousands of years of climatic change. Montreal is energized by this state of in-between-ness.
There is a porosity of the urban condition, the underground, and the grid. Below one’s feet, there is an ambiguity of the ground plane. It deflects and warps, into and out of subterranean worlds. One is constantly moving through the liminal spaces where these above and below grade worlds overlap, creating a “both/and” experiential phenomenon.
This fluidity and indeterminacy can be contrasted with the rigid axial relationships of the nearby megablocks. An uneasy imbalance exists in the milieu that these share. There is an opportunity for the Balmoral Block to become an antidotal “both/and” condition: part and parcel of both of these discordant worlds.
The Complexe culturel et administratif de Montréal provides the opportunity for intersection—an intersection of citizens, students, performing artists, and civil servants.
BLOCK │ to assemble as a block-like form…a simple rectangular solid
The Balmoral Block is prominently located between the cultural axis to the east, and the fur district to the west. The cultural axis is defined by large, monumental figures set within semi-private fields delimited by urban blocks. The fur district, by contrast, is a more porous public realm, distinguished by a relatively consistent building height and massing.
The initial gesture is to create a macro “block”, a large-scale reading of a simple form. This simple form matches the 11-12 story building height datum established in the fur district, continuing and extending this region into the Balmoral Block. At the urban level, this permeable block serves as a dense poché or mass concept set amongst a context of rambling forms.
While reinforcing the street edges of Sainte-Catherine and de Bleury streets, the massing of the block also helps define and give shape to the open spaces around it, especially Place des Arts and the northern collar.
CUT │ to incise, to carve a slice
Into this simple form of the block, a cut is made: la coupe du soleil (the cut of the sun). This incision of light traces and distorts the path of Balmoral Street as it bisects the site from north to south. La coupe du soleil, based on the location of the sun in the sky, admits light deep within the block.
The public is invited to move into the block through this coupe du soleil. As a public conduit, it allows for internal linkages between programmatic components as well as urban spaces beyond. To the south, la coupe links la Place des Festivals while also opening to a future green space and transportation hub within the northern coller and Place des Arts.
WEAVE │ to interlace, overlap, bind together
Along the monumental axis near the site, program elements are segregated, yielding a sense of isolation, disconnectedness, and aloofness in the interstitial public spaces. The attitude within the Balmoral Block is to extend a more urban phenomenon across the site by weaving and overlapping the proposed program within the block.
The block becomes effectively an interwoven composition of the four basic programs: Administrative Offices, OSM, Conservatory, and public areas. Cultural and public components begin in the first three levels of the block, and extend upward and through the offices on the floors above. Elements of each program component wrap others vertically to stitch and weave them together into an integrated whole.
The identity of each of the component programs is established through their interactions, as they are revealed to one another. The Conservatory of Music and Drama is the most dynamic, as it folds upward into le coupe du soleil. The spaces of the Conservatory become a lyrical element where the formerly concealed practice rooms and studios are opened to light, and to views from adjacent program elements.
The Concert Hall for the OSM is lifted above the ground level, and its surface is peeled up along the elevation of Maisonneuve Street to create a great awning and marquis, revealing what was formerly a closed world to an open city. The Administrative and Governmental Offices weave between and around these dynamic gestures, with views into and through each of them.
The elevation facing the fur district is particularly transparent, perforated at the ground plane, and enlivened with retail to facilitate movement and connectivity. Elsewhere, the vertical surfaces of the block are dematerialized as scrims, screens, or masks, allowing light to filter through them. These screens provide a visual fluidity, where the eye is allowed to pass into and out of semi-public and private spaces. In this way the offices, practice rooms, and foyers, for instance, are opened to view. The entire block becomes a performance arena, with citizens and musicians “on stage” as they go about their daily work.
The project consists of a total gross area of 99 500 m2 (1,071,009 sf). Principal components are as follows:
- Montreal Symphony Orchestra Hall, including a 1900 seat concert hall and a stage accommodating 120 musicians and a choir of 246, specially designed practice halls, offices, and public spaces (reception, ticket office, etc.).
- The Conservatoire, serving 350 students and consisting of 115 teaching studios (individual and groups), practice studios for drama and music, support spaces (library, décor workshop, etc.), reception areas, and public spaces.
- A government administrative centre, housing various offices and governmental services for 2000 civil servants.
- Ground/street-level commercial space.
- 440 space parking garage, used daily by the employees of the administrative centre and the users of the Conservatoire; during the evenings, it is used by the public attending the multiple cultural events.
- An Underground passageway connects the complex to a subway station and in so doing, to Montreal’s underground pedestrian network.
- Competition Sponsor + Project Manager: La Société immobilière du Québec
- Architect: RMJM (formerly Hillier Architecture), 500 Alexander Park, Princeton NJ 08543-6395 | Tel. 609.452.8888 | Fax. 609.452.8332 | www.rmjm.com. Design Team: Jennifer Akerman, Jose Atienza, Joel Dabrowski, Ron DeVilla, Robert Hendrick, Rick Kuhn, + Bradley Walters. Translations: Jalil Amine + Paul Cremoux.
Awards + Recognition
- Honor Award, Unbuilt Category, Montreal Design Competition Entry, AIA New Jersey, 2004
- Honourable Mention, Competition Entry for the design of the Complex Culturel et Administratif de Montréal (unbuilt) – competition sponsored by Société immobilière du Québec (SIQ), 2003
- Walters, Bradley. “Philadelphia Designs Abroad” Lecture Series, sponsored by Center City District | Philadelphia PA, 2003
- Le Centre de Montréal des Archives nationales du Québec, 535 Viger Avenue East, Montréal, Canada (8/5/03 – 8/30/03)
- “Concours International d’Architecture: Le Complexe Culturel et Administratif de Montréal.” ARQ: La Revue D’Architecture. Art et Architecture Québec. Issue 126, Février 2004, p.20.