Saint-Laurent Library - When LEED Becomes the Competition Prize
The Saint-Laurent Library competition, launched in September of 2009 for the borough of Saint-Laurent in Montreal presented a great opportunity to invent a new cultural center, north of Montreal. It finally selected a project through a process displaying a disproportionate concern for environmental norms.
This was a two-stage competition process, where the first stage was not concerned with ideas but rather a dossier submission of past realizations. In order to be considered as a finalist, it was necessary that the team had a strong engineering LEED expertise. Of the 28 first stage dossiers, 4 finalists were invited to submit to the second phase: (1) Provencher Roy + associés/Anne Carrier Architectes in consortium; (2) ACDF architecture; (3) Chevalier Morales Architectes/Les Architectes FABG; and (4) Cardinal Hardy/Labonté Marcil/Éric Pelletier Architectes in consortium.
The competition called for a new library, where visibility from the main boulevard and the valorization of the surrounding wooded area were both as important as the very strict requirement for LEED Gold certification. We should recall that the mayor of the borough of Saint-Laurent, Alan DeSousa, is also the vice-chairman, in charge of sustainable development, the environment, parks and green spaces for the city of Montreal. Could this be one reason why LEED was conferred such an unusually important role for this Saint-Laurent competition?
The four finalist projects had very focused approaches regarding the sustainability criteria, albeit very divergent. The jury report stated, “All [finalists] achieve the points for LEED Gold certification” (French version - Tous atteignent les points pour la certification LEED Or) (p.4). ACDF based their design on the notion of compactness – a true sustainability principle that resulted in an elegant, minimalistic architecture. Chevalier Morales/FABG proposed a double envelope meant to address a series of environmental and social benefits for the project – not only emphasizing a connection with the forest because of its aesthetic aspects, but also to provide and control natural light throughout the day and reading comfort through an ambiance of tranquility. This team also determined the position of the building with respect to the preservation of existing trees on the site. Both Provencher Roy/ Anne Carrier and Cardinal Hardy/Labonté Marcil/Éric Pelletier did not adopt any global or encompassing environmental or sustainable design strategy except for enumerating the various technologies included in their proposal. Cardinal Hardy/Labonté Marcil/Éric Pelletier, the winning project, proposed a monumental structure that satisfied the main criteria in the program, that of visibility. Yet it was not clear how this monumentality valorized the wooded area behind the structure, if only as a new massive door to protect the wooded area, which in the end is no different from the traditional monumental concepts found in most competitions.
It is difficult to close this editorial without a further commentary on LEED. LEED Gold certification calls for 39-51 credits. Yet, teams had to demonstrate that they could obtain between 44-46 credits - even if 39 credits would do. Yet, teams had to proof to be able to obtain between 44-46 credits - even if 39 credits would do. Why would finalists be asked for these extra credits?
The brief stated that they needed this as buffer, in order to accommodate changes leading to the final construction. Is it possible to predict this early in the design process if the finalist proposals, proposing 39 or 40 or 43 or even 55 credits will not obtain a LEED Gold certification when the building is finally constructed?
The brief was very strict in this LEED Gold requirement. And the jurors, whether they liked it or not, could not ignore the precision imposed by the expert evaluators in their judgment, and had to address the prominence of LEED during the jury debate. There was a clear unbalanced emphasis on LEED in this competition. And this obsession with LEED caused a barrier to a proper judgment. Was the winner the safest project in terms of LEED certification or was it actually the best overall project? An immensely important question for the jury in cases where there is such a divergence of design ideals.
This competition was in fact exemplary in highlighting the many difficulties of incorporating questions and concerns of sustainability into the program and in the jury deliberation. Even when the goal is to select the best overall project, and this is both an individual as well as a collective jury objective, the intense pressure for satisfying LEED certification for this competition rendered this objective impossible. There is still much needed research in this subject area. The documentation and archival of the various competitions allows researchers to be able to study competitions, where one of the goals of such studies is to provide suggestions for improvement, especially in the current global era of sustainability. This new addition to the Canadian Competitions Catalogue is one among future CCC updates to be considered as a contribution to the sustainability debate.
OUTLOOK: a sustainable, humane, twenty first century library.
The Saint-Laurent neighbourhood wants to offer its 86,700 citizens a second library firmly anchored in the twenty first century, equipped with state of the art technology and focused on high quality standards, while never neglecting the human scale.
The project also includes an exhibition center and museum. Set in lush green space, the building creates a new gateway to Marc-Laurin Park's wooded area while enhancing the site. This sustainable building is aiming for LEED gold certification and is an iconic symbol for citizens, both with its location, purpose and by the excellence of its architecture and design.
The library, exhibition center and museum create a new cultural space that is very attractive and accessible to all citizens. Gathering these different spaces gives citizens added value and originality. In addition, the complex strengthens existing recreational and civil bonds and opens a new democratic, social and meaningful space for the neighbourhood.
Citizens are proud of this new sustainable building. Regardless of their age of origin, they are attracted by its design and they way it makes them feel at ease. The main hall is appropriated and becomes a space filled with information and discovery. The cafe, adjacent to the main hall, is a place to meet people, discuss and relax. Upon entering the building, citizens are always sure there is something interesting to discover.
The exhibition center's priority is to allow citizens to discover professional quality exhibitions. The center is also concerned with showcasing local artists work. The main hall acts as a display and primer for the exhibition center. Given the fact that the library is so close, this allows for a mutually beneficial relationship between both services.
The museum is an integral part of the building. Again, the main hall acts as a showcase for the museum, exposing Quebec's master artisans. Its location allows a relationship with the exhibition center and the library. The reserve however, consists of a separate private entity and is only accessible by the museum's personnel.
At the library, all citizens whether alone, within families or groups, all find the solution to their needs at multiple stages in their professional and personal lives.
(From the competition's brief)
Ville de Montréal - arrondissement de Saint-Laurent. Communiqué de presse (26 juin 2008) 24 M$ pour une nouvelle bibliothèque à Saint-Laurent
Ville de Montréal - arrondissement de Saint-Laurent. Communiqué de presse (1er février 2010) Nouvelle Bibliothèque de Saint-Laurent - L'équipe Cardinal Hardy/Labonté Marcil/Éric Pelletier Architectes en consortium/SDK et associés inc./Leroux Beaudoin Hurens et associés inc. remporte le concours d'architecture
Labonté, Pierre. Communiqué de presse (1er février 2010) Une équipe architecturale choc pour la nouvelle bibliothèque de Saint-Laurent
Ville de Montréal - arrondissement de Saint-Laurent. Communiqué de presse (20 décembre 2010) La nouvelle bibliothèque de Saint-Laurent reçoit un prestigieux prix de design