Competing for the spirit of competing
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)
Competition's web site : Architecture Competition Saint-Laurent Sports Complex
The sports center located in the Saint-Laurent neighbourhood in Montreal is a multifunctional sustainable epicentre filled with life.
The Saint-Laurent neighbourhood is proud to offer its inhabitants a brand new sports center developed for the twenty first century, fulfilling the ever growing needs of Saint-Laurent's active community, as well as its multiple community associations.
For the past few years, substantial population growth in Saint-Laurent, now nearing the ninety thousands, has ceaselessly increased the demand for organised sports. This increase in demands for physical activity gives the sports center its purpose.
Having a surface area of around 14 520 square meters, the sports center allows for a great diversity of physical activity in a wide variety of spaces adapted to today's needs. While respecting universal accessibility, the sports center includes the following installations: a pool and a recreational swimming area, a soccer field, a gymnastics room, a gymnasium, a training gym and a multifunctional room. The sports center's bright entrance hall, located near a Café and a rest area, provide a variety of social spaces that are enjoyable to occupy. Administrative offices take up the rest of the space, allowing for both personnel and volunteer groups to work efficiently. Through the diverse space that is offered, the Saint-Laurent sports center is now a cultural meeting place for people of all ages.
For all the athletes that attend the sports center, it has become a competitive beacon allowing for regional and provincial competitions to take place in top quality installations. Sports clubs can take advantage of this and have at their disposal a complete spectrum of competitive activities.
Innovation is also sought by the sports center's strategic location on Thimens boulevard where we can find, within a kilometre and a half, considerable social activity being added to its residential population. Located near the sports center are the Saint-Laurent high school, Raymond-Bourque arena, a new library, the museological complex and exhibition center, Marcel-Laurin park and woods, the Leonardo da Vinci professional development center and finally, an important commercial and industrial sector.
The Marguerite-Bourgeoys school board is an important participant in the project's development and is currently the land owner for the project. Discussions with the school board are under way to determine an agreement allowing the implementation of the new sports center and the conditions of its use. A interior link with the Saint-Laurent high school is sought, allowing students to use the equipment and space provided by the sports complex while offering additional spaces and equipment to its users.
Being a sustainable building, obliged to meet LEED NC 1.0 gold certification, this project is an exceptional sustainable project. It is a beacon for citizens by its strategic location, its vocation and its architectural and design excellence. The seductive appearance of the building is reflected by its interior transparency, the brightness of its natural lighting and its natural integration with the environment, all while keeping a human scale.
(Excerpt from the competition's brief)
The Jury recommends Saucier Perrotte/Hughes Condon Marler's project for the following reasons:
The overall architectural quality;
The building envelope's innovative quality;
The concept's simplicity;
The creation of a unique urban beacon on a variety of scales;
The potential evolution of the project while keeping the concept and the budget in mind;
Arriving within specified surface areas;
The efficiency in which the sustainable strategies were applied: minimizing land usage, ventilation and active wall systems.
The jury has recognised that the project must meet certain usage requirements and has offered multiple recommendations conditional to their choice, affecting mostly functional organisation and the budget.
Correct public access to the soccer field bleachers so they can be reached from the entrance hall;
Redesign the relationship between the gymnastics room, the change rooms and the school's gymnasiums for the participants and the equipment. ;
The link with the school must be revised as it does not end up near the school's gymnasium, nor on the right floor;
Reduce the pool's roof height in relationship with the school's in an effort to facilitate teaching;
Create an enjoyable link with the park by avoiding the secure area; the building concept's link with the park could be more elaborated;
Facilitate technical personnel's access to mechanical rooms by including a staircase and an elevator for equipment;
Optimise the mechanical systems' placement and roof geometry to maximise sunlight on the active wall system;
Create a hall for all ages, including seniors, that is both welcoming and attractive;
Promote the usage of wood and more welcoming materials in public spaces;
Maximise the exterior ramp's fluidity to access the roof's walkway;
Open the park's façade to the exterior space;
Emphasize the sports center's entrance by reorganising public space, without reducing it's flexibility and accessibility;
Access to the soccer field from the player's room is exiguous and its design does not reflect the architectural program;
The central staircase, the elevator and the vestibule are too narrow and will have to be enlarged;
The bleachers located in the pool are unable to see all the swimming lanes and must be redesigned;
Access to the pool area from the change rooms must be between both pools;
The colour red on the pool area's ceiling is seen as oppressive;
The median green strips in the phase two parking lot will most likely hinder snow removal;
Enhance cost reduction strategies without affecting LEED gold certification and maintaining a 60% energy reduction;
Suggest cost reduction strategies to counter Macogep's analysis on budget excess;
(Excerpt from the jury's report)
Ville de Montréal - Arrondissement de Saint-Laurent. Communiqué de presse (8/10/2006) Vers la construction d'un complexe sportif à Saint-Laurent
Ville de Montréal - Arrondissement de Saint-Laurent. Communiqué de presse (4/08/2010) Construction d'un complexe sportif à Saint-Laurent
kollectif.net (24/09/2010) Annonce - Concours du complexe sportif de Saint-Laurent - "Les quatre finalistes"
Métro (07/03/2011) Le nouveau centre sportif de St-Laurent dévoilé
Ville de Montréal - Arrondissement de Saint-Laurent. Communiqué de presse (7/032011) Coup d'envoi pour le Complexe sportif
Développement économique Canada. Communiqué de presse (7/03/2011) Dévoilement du concept architectural du futur Complexe sportif de Saint-Laurent
Fortin, Jean-Louis. TVA nouvelles (7/03/2011) Un complexe sportif futuriste à Saint-Laurent