220 competitions documented 459 competitions listed
5 860 projects 57 289 documents
When the construction site turns into a forbidden party
by Marc-Antoine Fournier, Jean-Pierre Chupin, published 2022-01-19
The City of Montreal launched the Vivre le chantier Sainte-Cath: Mise en valeur de la rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest competition in the spring of 2016 with the aim of mitigating the impacts of the redevelopment of one of its most emblematic arteries. A subject rarely tackled, the mitigation of construction sites gave rise to a multidisciplinary reflection on the transformation of the city, taking advantage of "a space of freedom, outside the perennial character of urban spaces that are under construction, to create new experiences" (Marmen, 2014). The projects in this competition invite us to reflect on the capacity of a construction site to reinforce the festival identity of a metropolis such as Montreal. The unfolding of the competition, however, did not go as planned.

Sainte-Catherine Street was for a long time the main commercial artery of Montreal and one of the most important in Canada. With 1,200 businesses, stores, restaurants and theaters, it crosses the downtown area from west to east, linking numerous neighborhoods of contrasting natures. Three universities make it a student hub and more than 500,000 people travel along it every day. The diversity of users and events make Sainte-Catherine Street a gathering place at the crossroads of work, culture, education, heritage, and therefore tourism.

The vast restructuring of Sainte-Catherine Street was an opportunity to organize the competition Vivre le chantier Sainte-Cath, which attempted not only to mitigate the site’s direct impacts but also to define a festive experience. The symposium Quel chantier! - Le design au secours des grands chantiers urbains, held in the fall of 2014 by the Bureau de design de la Ville de Montréal in collaboration with the Cité du design de Saint-Étienne, allowed to formulate preliminary recommendations that guided the development of the program:

- Changing users' perceptions of the process of a construction site by making it attractive and lively;
- Defining an innovative urban experience in the context of the construction site;
- Directing and informing all street users in a safe and efficient manner;
- Reducing the nuisance associated with the various works and obstacles;
- Allowing the diffusion of information in situ relative to the evolution of the construction site in real time;
- Informing users about future developments (program).

The competition invited multidisciplinary teams (architecture, urban planning, marketing, graphic design, industrial design and communication). Of the eighteen original competitors, five finalists were selected, each one receiving a lump sum of $24,900. The winning firm, KANVA, was awarded $695,000 but the project was unfortunately abandoned when the municipal administration changed.

The line between rationality and creativity proved difficult to negotiate for most of the finalists. Workshop Architecture proposed an elevated public plaza; an island floating above the site. Combined with a network of metal walkways, the plaza is a space of "considerable impact" (jury report) and offers spectacular views. Standard construction equipment such as a gantry crane, metal staircases, and a construction elevator, made the team confident in the installation’s capacity to adapt to the ongoing construction site; a belief that the jury did not share, noting that "functionally and operationally, the installations use construction site materials and equipment, which is an advantage in terms of use, handling, and sturdiness [...] (but) the jury has a poor understanding of the integration between the installations and the construction site." (jury report).

The Intégral Jean Beaudoin team proposed a series of six squares with varied characteristics deployed in a "large ribbon of temporary public spaces" (team text): Bleury observatory, Saint-James square, construction site observatory and temporary squares in Phillips square, Ville-Marie pier, Mansfield cinema stage. The diversity of the typologies developed were intended to generate a variety of appropriations that would suit the users’ different needs, but the jury underlined the installations’ lack of adaptability: "the heavy and massive structures do not present the modularity and flexibility necessary in the context of an evolving construction site" (jury report). The project was considered too generic; it "could just as easily have been built in another context" (jury report).
L. McComber's team relied on a strategy of light and modular installations. The use of standard construction equipment such as concrete barriers, site fences, scaffolding and platforms allowed installations to adapt to the construction in progress, while providing a signage and information interface for users. The jury appreciated the proposal’s graphic identity: "the signage is sober, efficient and chic like Sainte-Catherine Street" (jury report). However, there were doubts about the long-term attractiveness of the concept and its apparent lack of vision: "the interventions are characterized by several small-scale gestures that are not on the scale of the major commercial artery that is Sainte-Catherine" (Jury Report).

Annexe U invited the celebration of the excessiveness of Sainte-Catherine through a series of walkways, towers and modular installations acting as "a unifying gesture, a seam perpetuating the dynamism of the artery" (team text). The graphic signature, refined in the second stage, and the aesthetic language of the project seduced the jury, which nevertheless noted the distance between the team’s discourse and its proposal: "the performance responds to the issues of the program, but it does not however deliver the excess and the effervescence that the team speaks of. The user experience is also not very varied. It is more about contemplation and little about wandering" (jury report).

The winning proposal, developed by KANVA, offered a surprising and original response to the problem of site mitigation, combining flexibility and iconicity in a bold biomorphic installation. A series of gigantic inflatable arches are deployed on Sainte-Catherine Street like a protective shell to shelter, protect, animate, and articulate the construction site. The ideas of mutation and transformation associated to major urban works are translated into a formal language reminiscent of biological metamorphosis, more precisely of the "process [...] guiding an organism from its embryonic stage to its final stage" here referred to as IMAGO (team text). The evolutionary parallel poetically mirrors the urban development and the transformation process that the project accompanies. The proposed experience is the most convincing out of the finalists’ projects, offering "a surprising promenade and a rich experience" (jury report). The inflatable modules had to be made of recyclable high-strength polyester composite that responds to different climatic conditions while still being washable and easily replaceable. The lightness of the structures had to allow for quick and efficient installation, de-installation, and modulation with as little impact on the progress of the work as possible. In its report, the jury praised the relevance of KANVA's environmental response "both in their material and narrative approach" (jury report). The arches partially contain the dust and noise of the site while the perforations in the structure prevent water and snow overloads and facilitate natural ventilation. It should be noted that signage, although strongly exploited by competing firms, is given only minimal attention here. The firm’s aesthetic identity having been criticized in stage 1, KANVA wanted to stray away from the graphic route: a choice that seems to have played in the team's favor.
The projects of the final stage offered a limited range of interpretations, a series of variations on the same theme. Marie-Claude Plourde, architect, notes the redundancy of the proposals in a post published on Kollectif, positing the hypothesis that a directive and well-documented brief may have standardized the finalist projects (Plourde, 2016). The widespread use of catchy keywords is indicative of the commercial and event-driven nature of the project with many teams having included marketing and communications experts into the design process.

Despite a gesture described as "emblematic on the scale of Sainte-Catherine Street and its importance" (jury report), one can question the links that anchor the winning proposal to its context. As part of the event Quel chantier! - Le design au secours des grands chantiers urbains, Jean-Pierre Grunfeld argues that a construction site cannot be separated from its context, it "must become a reflection of the project that gives rise to it and in this sense cannot be reproduced from one place to another [...] it then rises from the generic character of the usual experience of a site without a project" (Marmen, 2014). KANVA's arches, although elegant, could have been developed in response to any urban construction site. Tudor Radulescu, architect and co-founder of the firm asserts that "[the] concept can be used on other commercial arteries. Not just on Sainte-Catherine" (Colpron, 2019). Where IMAGO fits into the Montreal context, however, is in the festive nature of the proposal. Montreal is a city of festivities and ephemeral outpourings, hosting over forty festivals annually. These festivals and the temporary installations that accompany them are part of the city's identity and remain a necessary space for experimentation. KANVA's biomorphic structures are part of this festive and effervescent atmosphere that is typical of Montreal, not by their form, but rather by their singular experimental vision. We will never be able to verify those assumptions, however, as the winning project fell victim to the change of municipal guard, abruptly cancelled by the Plante administration which cited the possible schedule delays the project could elicit.

Colpron, Suzanne. «Concours d'architecture: un projet boudé par Montréal de nouveau primé.» La Presse (2019). 9 janvier 2022. .

Marmen, Patrick. Colloque Quel chantier! Le design au secours des grands chantiers urbains. Synthèse. Ville de Montréal. Montréal, 2014. 9 janvier 2022. .

Plourde, Marie-Claude. Le chantier pour repenser la ville durable? Regard sur Sainte-Cath. 30 septembre 2016. 9 janvier 2022. .
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 Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Competitions and Mediations of Excellence 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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