When the construction site turns into a forbidden party
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 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. .
The upgrading of underground infrastructures, the installation of new public transport systems, the pedestrianisation of streets in the city centre or the construction of major facilities are all situations requiring the implementation of urban worksites; major transformations in the functioning of cities which aim to improve, in the long term, the quality of the living environment and the attractiveness of their territory. Although they are a necessary step towards the requalification of 21st century cities, these projects are changing the daily lives of citizens, particularly their mobility, their access to services and shops, and their peace of mind.
If expertise in architecture and design were put to good use in the planning, design and animation of construction sites, could they provide creative solutions to this major and universal challenge? Could they improve the collective and individual experience of major urban construction sites and reduce the negative impacts on economic activity and the daily lives of workers, merchants, residents and tourists?
These issues and questions were at the heart of the conference's theme "Quel chantier! - Le design au secours des grands chantiers urbains", which was held in Montréal in October 2014, as part of the 27th Entretiens Jacques Cartier. Organized by the Bureau du design de la Ville de Montréal in collaboration with the Cité du design de Saint-Étienne, this international meeting brought together nearly 300 people, including some 20 speakers from Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States. This event was an opportunity to share and explore innovative design solutions in response to the problems of major urban construction sites and, by the same token, marked one of the first milestones in the development of new ways of doing things in Montreal.
In the wake of these discussions, and in order to contribute to the well-being of citizens, economic growth and the city's attractiveness, the City of Montreal is setting a new milestone by announcing that it will integrate design into the planning, design and construction of the Sainte-Catherine Street West site, which will begin in the spring of 2017.
This major project, which will extend from Atwater Avenue to De Bleury Street, and involves the repair of underground infrastructures and new urban development, will inevitably have an impact on the city's downtown area.
Recognizing that Sainte-Catherine Street is a commercial street of great importance, the City of Montreal wishes to organize a design competition to mitigate the impact by enhancing the first phase of the work site, which will take place over four years.
By bringing together ideas, the competition will aim to produce innovative and quality solutions in order to select and mandate a multidisciplinary team that will be awarded a professional services contract for the detailed design, plans and specifications, and the follow-up of the implementation of its concept on the site.
The intervention proposed within the framework of the competition must be in keeping with the specific context of Sainte-Catherine Street, taking into consideration the emblematic aspect of the commercial artery. In order to maintain an attractive, high-quality urban environment for users throughout the duration of the work, the intervention must, in both form and content, achieve the following objectives:
- change users' perceptions of the progress of a worksite by making it more attractive to the public attractive and lively;
- define an innovative urban experience within the framework of the construction site;
- to efficiently and safely route and direct all street users;
- Reduce the nuisances associated with the various works and obstacles;
- Allow the dissemination of in situ information on the progress of the construction site in real time;
- inform users about future developments.
Koromyslova, Nadia, Montréal, une ville qui change grâce à ses designers, Le Devoir, 2017
Colpron, Suzanne, Concours d’architecture: un projet boudé par Montréal de nouveau primé, La Presse, 2019
AZ Awards 2019 Winner: Imago, Azure Magazine, 2019
KANVA's Imago project lauded at World Architecture Festival, Canadian Architect, 2018
Concours de design « Vivre le chantier Sainte-Cath » par la Ville de Montréal, Index-Design.ca
Lancement du concours de design "Vivre le chantier Sainte-Cath", Kollectif, 2016
Montréal mandate Kanva architecture pour mettre en valeur le chantier de la rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
Wu, Alyssa, Inflatable Arches Chosen to Reimagine St. Catherine Street Construction Site, ArchDaily, 2016
Plourde, Marie-Claude, Le chantier pour repenser la ville durable? Regard sur Sainte-Cath, Kollectif, 2016
Vézina, Henri Ouellette, Le chantier de Sainte-Catherine Ouest lancé en février, Journal Métro, 2018
Testado, Justine, KANVA to design evolving “Imago” installation for Montreal's St. Catherine Street, Bustler
Montreal abre concurso para minimizar impacto de trabajos en la calle Sainte-Catherine, NM Noticias, 2016
ICI.Radio-Canada.ca, Zone Économie-, Réfection de la rue Sainte-Catherine : un premier tronçon inauguré, Radio-Canada.ca
Daoust-Braun, Sarah, Réfection de la rue Sainte-Catherine: les travaux inquiètent les commerçants, 24 heures, 2018
Revitalisation de la rue Rue Sainte-Catherine ouest et réaménagement du square Phillips et de la place du Frère-André, Provencher_Roy | Architecture - Design - Urbanisme - Paysage