Chevalier Morales Architectes . Busby Perkins + Will

Nouveau Centre Culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grâce . Montreal

source: courtesy of Chevalier Morales Architectes

The one dimensional quality which has traditionally characterized libraries, in which they were conceived as places for storing and reading books has evolved. Contemporary libraries are serving a more complex role in our communities. The functional program which defines the Centre Culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grâce acknowledges this in a formal manner, in which the ‘library’ is considered to be a part of a place which offers a home to many layers of culture. Some of these layers are ‘loud’ and social in nature and very different from the quiet introspective spaces provided in traditional libraries

In response the proposed Centre provides a place for many different types of activities. In simple terms, the Centre is organized to provide places for quiet, introspective study as well as places for ‘loud’, social activities which are defined by very different design qualities. In general the ground floor is designed to accommodate activity in bright transparent places with views which encourage social connection. In contrast the upper floor is designed to be a place for silent study in which the views are controlled, and the quality of light which filters through the clerestory windows and shaped facade create an atmosphere of introspection and distance from the world; a place ‘to hold on to, the words and sentences which he awakens.’.
The proposed Centre Culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grâce was conceived to be an integral part of and exten­sion of the built fabric which defines the Benny Farm community in an attempt to contribute to the spirit of community and neighbourhood sharing which has been cultivated and nurtured. Three principle architectural gestures have been used to achieve this integration into the fabric. First, the massing of the Centre was deve­loped to achieve a similar relationship to the adjacent streets; such that the centre appears to complete the fabric of the block. The massing was also developed in such a way as to create semi public semi private spa­ces between the Centre and the existing fabric which could be developed in a functional and beautiful manner, in an attempt to contribute to the sense of community which exits within the fabric in general and the public gardens in particular. For example, it is proposed that the parking associated with the Centre be developed as an extension of the existing Public Gardens, creating more opportunity for gardening while avoiding the poten­tially negative visual and environmental qualities which a ‘parking lot’ can have on a residential community. Second, the program is organized on the site to allow for a legible entrance and connection to both the City and the Benny Farm Community; such that the Centre might be understood to be a place where the commu­nity ‘meets’ the City. Third, a brick which is similar in colour to that utilized for the existing community is utilized as the principal cladding for the Centre such that a strong visual connection to the existing fabric is achieved.
The proposed Centre Culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grâce was also conceived to be a ‘signature’ building to acknowledge its special place in the community as a cultural institution which has a public identity and the need to connect to the city in a manner which is different from the residential parts. This is accomplished in a number of ways. First, the centre is designed to be relatively transparent on the ground floor such that the activities which it contains are visible from the surrounding community; in an attempt to invite the community and City to participate. Second, while it is possible to achieve a certain amount of transparency during the day time it is at night that the building becomes highly transparent, due to the reflective quality which all glass has when there is more light outside than inside. In an attempt to respond to this phenomenon, the Centre announces its presence in other ways. It is proposed that a series of banner supports be extended through and beyond the street trees on Monkland to help provide a method for announcing important Centre events on the street in a festive manner. Also, the program of the Centre is organized on the site to allow some events to spill out onto Benny, Monkland and or the community side of the project. Third, it is proposed that brick be utilized in a somewhat innovative manner which is expressive of the desire for a light, transparent building which is also environmentally responsible, as opposed to the heavy opaque quality which many brick buildings possess. In this respect the brick cladding is peeled away at times to allow for light, views and solar gain in the winter, while excluding gain during the cooling season. This cantilevered vocabulary is accomplished by using a precast concrete substrate for some of the brick.
Some aspects of the proposed Centre Culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grâce are designed to provide for the long term permanent qualities of the Centre in a manner which does not prevent modifications to accommodate changing programmatic needs or technological developments. For example, the envelope of the Library is de­signed to provide the desired daylight and views to all of its parts; in response to the climate of Montreal, such that planning changes can be accommodated without having to make costly changes to the envelope.
The design of the Cultural Centre has been directed by the desire to minimize the potential negative impact which the centre; its construction and operation, has on its surrounding environment while maximizing the po­tential positive benefits which it brings to its community such that it becomes an environmentally and culturally sustainable facility; in the spirit of sharing and community spirit which characterizes Benny Farm.
On both a practical and metaphoric level the Parking Garden is intended as a way for the Cultural Centre to give back to the surrounding community in terms of providing parking and growing space which results in an annual harvest and the simple pleasure associated with nurturing growth. This strategy also improves the negative visual impact which hard roofscapes and parking lots could have on the surrounding residential community.

Architects: Chevalier Morales Architectes & Busby Perkins + Will
Location: Montréal, Québec, Canada
Project managers: Peter Busby, Stephan Chevalier, Michael Cunningham, Sergio Morales
Project team: Stephan Chevalier, Michael Cunningham, Valérie Lévesque, Patrick Littée, Alexandre Massé, Sergio Morales, Jinyong Yum
Engineers: Bouthillette Parizeau, SDK
Project Year: 2010

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