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4 536 projects 43 089 documents

Competing for the spirit of competing

by Jean-Pierre Chupin, published 2012-11-16
With the current lack of faith in municipal administrations, it is perhaps time to advise town representatives and citizens to discover how design competitions can help build and improve the quality of our cities. Competitions may not be the perfect procedure but are far more transparent than brown envelopes and socks stuffed with cash which are so often in the news of 2012. The borough of Saint-Laurent in Montreal has organized a second design competition in two years, with their first being the renewal of the public library in 2009. This second design competition, launched in 2010, dealt with sports centers and revealed the city's desire to mobilize architecture's vital forces by challenging talents in the spirit of fairness and competition as it is done in sports.

Design competitions are sometimes controversial, but the entire history of international design competitions doesn't contain one tenth of the scandals and other cunning ploys that currently undermine the credibility of investments in Quebec municipalities. A design competition is the “least worst” way to reunite, for a given problematic, competing expertise and talents: since talents must always be renewed as good ideas are never set in stone!

The problem articulated by the borough of Saint-Laurent in 2010 was for a design that went beyond a facility with basic sports equipment, and included pools, a soccer stadium, various training rooms, a gymnasium, as well as a café and offices. On paper it didn't seem that complex, however the distended urban context along Boulevard Thimens, paired with the ambition to reinforce the urban form of the dynamic borough in the north of Montréal, called into action four of the best firms in Montréal: Saucier + Perrotte with Hughes Condon Marier, Affleck + De la Riva with Cannon Design, Lapointe Magne et Associés with l'OEUF, and last but not least Saïa Barbarese Topouzanov with Hudon Julien Croft. Well-known names, which some would argue are the habitual players in these design competitions, are in fact, on even playing ground, with equal competences and commitment to architectural quality.

The jury was mainly composed of architects, and was led by the legendary sports commentator Richard Garneau, whose knowledge and acumen, as well as the accuracy of his analysis, are only equaled by his longevity. If we were to compare the jury process in this competition to that of the borough's design competition for the public library (2009), as was detailed by professor Cucuzzella in her editorial for the CCC (September 2012), there could be cause for concern that a disproportionate importance would be given to the need for a LEED Gold certification. In the competition for the sports complex, the jury did not mistake LEED Gold with gold medal, for while reading the detailed jury report available to the general public, which has been summarized in the General Information section of the main page of the competition on the CCC website, we understand that the jury awarded the prizes based on the “quality of the architectural gesture, the relevance of the innovation of the envelope, the simplicity of the concept, the creation of a distinct image on an urban scale, as well as the sustainable development strategy” (from the jury report). The winners of the competition, a consortium of Saucier + Perrotte and Hughes Condon Marier architects, presented a project that contained all the requirements the jury sought. It had been more than fifteen years since Saucier + Perrotte had won a competition on Quebec soil – their last being the Faculté de l'Aménagement design competition in 1994 – whereas they continue to accumulate prizes, gain recognition, and find success in the rest of Canada as well as abroad. One success lead to another for Saucier + Perrotte, which we shall detail in an upcoming update of the CCC, when we analyze the competition for the interior Soccer Complex that they won in 2012, a project that will begin construction in the Saint-Michel area of Montréal.

There are two important aspects to this editorial: the first revolves around the question of architectural composition, the second around the composition of architectural judgment. Firstly, it is obvious that planning a sports facility quickly surpasses purely functional aspects to address the problematic of formal composition, and ultimately, a distinctive treatment for the building's envelope. Two of the proposals are situated at extremes that deal with topographic schemes. The projects by Saucier + Perrotte and Saïa Barbarese Topouzanov fall into that category. If the former's proposal lifts up the earth's surface in a tectonic movement in the geological sense of the term, the latter's hesitates between the design of a new topography and the image of the buried project. The jury actually mentioned concerns over the “extent of excavations” and the complexity of the roof's structure for Saïa Barbarese Topouzanov's proposal. Because of the borough's specific request for a complex that reinforces the urban image along Boulevard Thiemens, we can deduce that a landscape approach was probably the team's strategic error. The two remaining teams focused on the urban image of the project by designing huge sports “boxes”. Affleck + De la Riva's project proposes an extension of interior activities towards exterior spaces, which are named “event” spaces, and can be explained by the need to propose creative uses of the large parking areas necessary for sporting equipment. We remain doubtful regarding the audacious methodology of Lapointe Magne's project. They took a gamble on an “integrated design” strategy, an approach made mainstream over the years by their partner team, l'OEUF. The panels submitted highlighted, via a photographic exposé, the working method to implement the interdisciplinary strategy rather than the project in itself, which didn't convince the jury. Could there be, in this competition, a contradiction between the environmental calculations necessary for the LEED certification and the communication strategy necessary in any competition? When reading the jury report, we notice that the jury did not adhere to an integrated design process, which imposed a multiple-stage project. It preferred to limit the risks by satisfying the borough's wish for an instant recognizable urban form.

The second and final aspect that we would like to underline in the analysis of this competition is the decisive role of judgment. Indeed, the jury exceptionally decided to publish the entire judgment, more specifically the long list of recommendations to the winning project. We advise visitors of the CCC to read the competition ‘General Information' to fully comprehend the test of humility imposed on the winning team through nearly twenty recommendations "conditional to the choice" of the jury. Should we take offense that a jury felt the need to verbalize very specific recommendations for what remains, after all, a draft of a project at a competition level? Should we accept that a jury demands that the project ensure easy access for maintenance personnel to mechanical rooms? And what should we think of a panel of expert architects seeking to "correct the public access to the soccer bleachers so that they may be accessed via the hall?" There is no need for these comments because they are clearly aspects that any self-respecting architect will revise in the subsequent stages of formalization of the project. Now, is there really a need for a comment such as: "the extent of the red color on the ceiling of the pool is seen as oppressive"? Does this reflect a real collective judgment or the simple chromatic anxiety of a jury member wishing for soothing pastel tones? It is not in this editorial that will question the ability of the competition jury to make recommendations for the improvement of projects, for it is not only the prerogative but the duty of every qualitative judgment in architecture. Still, this would imply that the jury is granted the power to follow the judgment, in whole or in part, to monitor the transformations in the subsequent steps of the project. It is a model that we had the opportunity to present in issue 154 of ARQ magazine (February 2011), detailing the practice of judgment-by-design. In said article it was specified that judgment encompasses designing the winning project as a way to both recognize it and appropriate it. While architects and designers are required to receive criticism, they can at least expect a final report that deals with the larger issues, containing more "architectural criticism" and less micromanaging of more minute details.

(Translated by Konstantina Theodosopoulos)
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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