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A Library for the City

by Georges Adamczyk, published 2012-09-08
The competition for the Marc Favreau library in Rosemont arrived just in time to take an important step in the regeneration of the site's former municipal workshops. The site, located along a railway, was occupied by labour facilities disconnected from residential zoning, interrupting the regular fabric of the city. In the late 80\'s, a public consultation offered a shared vision suggesting a redevelopment strategy for the site. The bus terminal, subway station and the existing Art Deco building, dating back to 1932, defined a civil space offering great potential. The rest of the site would be dedicated to residential occupation.
In 1990, at the corner of St-Denis and des Carrières, a first set of 150 homes was built by the Municipal Housing Bureau of Montreal. It was after the public consultation of 2006 that the proposal for a civil front on Rosemont Street had taken shape, and a comprehensive plan was developed. It was leaning towards two possible solutions: the concept of a super block and the idea of extending the street grid with higher buildings around the perimeter of the site and landscape design in the center. The project developed by Rachel & Julien, and designed by Cardinal Hardy, strengthened this idea with a residential building composed of 335 units, reinforcing the eastern edge of site, along St-Hubert Street. We are still anticipating the public place or building that will in turn reinforce the western edge of the site, at the corner of St-Denis and Rosemont, at the steps of the subway station.
In 2007, the City of Montreal unveiled the project for a new family-oriented library, allowing the neighbourhood's population to access a collection of books, as the area is identified as one of the most underserved in Montreal. The district came out of \"the era of darkness\" as evoked the Mayor of the district at the time. In 2008, the name of the library and the adjacent park was announced to the public. As a tribute to \"Sol et Gobelet\", the library adopted the name of Marc Favreau, and the park, Luc Durand.
During the summer of 2009, a two-stage competition was launched. The first step was to select four teams of finalists including engineers and appraisers, based solely on a preliminary submission, rather than sketches or concepts. The site's area for the project was 3000 square meters, 500 of which were found in the existing building to be renovated. The proposal for the project had to meet LEED certification requirements and the budget was set at $ 7,564,000. Four avant-garde concepts were also suggested: a family-oriented environment (for adults, adolescents and children), the integration of new information technologies, the quality of the design, and a sustainable project.
At the end of the first phase in September 2009, the four selected teams were: Corriveau Girard and Eric Pelletier, architects; Dan Hanganu, architects; FABG architects; and finally Manon Asselin, architect working with Jodoin Lamarre Pratte, better known as Atelier Tag and JLP Architects.

The jury, chaired by Mario Saia, evaluated the finalists on December 15, 2009 and announced the results the following day. The jury's report is available, and reflects the discussion between members of the jury. It is very informative concerning the relative importance given to design principles and evaluation criteria, which are all covered. Generally, one can say that the discussion is directed firstly towards the criteria related to the form and the program and, secondly, around those intersecting the technical aspects. Comments on the architectural form are more subjective, while those concerning the technical aspects seem to be more objective.
If we give more importance to public space in the jury's decision, then Dan Hanganu's submission becomes the more obvious choice. Given that masonry is part of the winning project, it is often cited as a positive reference in response to the popular representation of the city. But in this case, it is the context which seems more important, a dimension which was not really discussed by the jury in this case. Dan Hanganu's proposal was not composed as a unique architectural feat, which usually emphasises an interior spatial arrangement, and paths shaped by the intersection between volumes and light. Breaking away from this design strategy, the composition here is much more urban oriented. It brings together several elements including the existing building, and this approach could be described as a heterotopic composition. The façade is constructed by creating a second masonry wall facing the metro station, perpendicular to the existing building, shedding its base to the south and slightly bending to the west. The link with the existing building is through a well marked entrance on Rosemont, aligned with the Art Deco building. Enclosed between the old and the new, a glass volume can be found, which allows interior and exterior space to mix, linking the park and the library. This approach, which owes as much to Alvar Aalto as to inflections of modern critical regionalism, has the merit of demonstrating that a small project can help build the Grand City.

(Translated by David Grenier)
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