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When a competition's design in Quebec innovates in urban design

by Camille Crossman, published 2011-09-25
Launched in May 2011, the urban design competition “Namur Jean-Talon Ouest” innovates in the two phase organisation process, in the development of unprecedented judgment criteria and also shows boldness and openness to criticism, allowing the “Laboratoire d'étude de l'architecture potentielle” (L.E.A.P.) to post the projects online at the same time as the results are unveiled.

This audacity and innovation are most likely related to the fact that this competition's new formula was organised by one of Quebec's experts: Professor Jacques White from Laval University, as well as Isabelle Leclair, former research coordinator at the L.E.A.P. The first phase of this nationwide competition was anonymous, but restricted to teams of professionals in the field of architecture, urbanism or landscape architecture. Located in the Cote-des-Neiges neighbourhood in Montreal, a large industrial site, dubbed “the Triangle” due to its particular geometry, is undergoing a major vocational change. A few hundred condominiums are under construction to meet the ever-growing housing demand. The city's most dense neighbourhood is expecting nearly 6,000 new residents, including a high proportion of immigrant families, who will be settling on the outskirts of the Namur metro station in the coming years. As it is now, the site's concrete state, built primarily for the circulation of trucks and cars is anything but suitable for welcoming a residential clientele, families, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. This vast urban area's transformation into a quality residential neighbourhood literally represents the development of a “piece of the city”.

Aware of the stakes and the scale this development project represents, Mr. Marvin Rotrand and Mrs. Helen Fotopoulos, advisors to the Snowdon and Cote-des-neiges districts, supported the idea to hold an urban design idea competition. This competition has a peculiarity that seems important to emphasize, as it could give new life to competitions in Quebec and Canada. Indeed, if we have in one hand traditional competitions, leading to a contract and execution of the winning project, and on the other hand idea competitions organized to foster creative emulation and to feel out a new development method, then the hybrid solution used in this competition is brand new. Without delving into land issues related to the nature of public and private properties on the site, organisers decided that this competition would be “hybrid” in the sense that participants had two components (idea and project development) that they would have to handle in a single proposal. The first component was to redesign a publicly owned area near the main entrance to the site (near Namur metro station) and had to be feasible. The second component could be applied to all undeveloped urban space within the Triangle, whether or not the land is private or publicly owned. On these areas, participants were invited to propose ideas for urban development, including the integration of new parks, closing or opening roads, developing new ecological strategies for rainwater recovery on an urban scale, a master plan, etc. The fact that the competition was organised this way, organisers were able to get the most out of the competition as they were sure to have a high quality project for at least part of the site. On the other hand, having asked participants to offer a vision for the entire district, the city also has a potential project that can be developed over a long term. Although private developers were necessary to realize the idea component of the competition, we are confident they can enjoy a coherent, green, enjoyable urban environment for future residents, thanks to the public funds that were provided.

Finally, it is necessary to emphasize the subtlety of the judgement criteria which took into account of a wide range of issues, testifying the true reflection held by the competition's organisers. This preliminary project development by a series of precise objectives has most likely allowed participants to develop and submit projects of very high quality, and the jury's deliberation to be a fair and informed evaluation. Following this commitment to openness regarding the judgment process, Design Montreal has organised, only for the second time in Quebec, a public presentation with the four finalists. More than 100 people attended on September 8th 2011. For those of us who could not attend, the Canadian Competitions Catalogue is, as usual, making all projects submitted for this competition available to everyone. The simultaneous publication prohibits us from commenting on the projects, but we are certain discovering them will be a fruitful experience.

(Translated by David Grenier)
IMPORTANT NOTICE : Unless otherwise indicated, photographs of buildings and projects are from professional or institutional archives. All reproduction is prohibited unless authorized by the architects, designers, office managers, consortiums or archives centers concerned. The researchers of the Research Chair on Competitions and Contemporary Practices in Architecture are not held responsible for any omissions or inaccuracies, but appreciate all comments and pertinent information that will permit necessary modifications during future updates.
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