Infill

It is widely assumed that the end of the special exemption by which Canada continued to charge tariffs on Chinese clothing imports — maintaining a successful textile and garment industry in Montreal for years after “free trade” deep-sixed it in cities across the US — will mean the end of the garment clusters in the fur district downtown, as well as in the factory blocks along De Gaspé and the behemoth buildings in the Chabanel area. While this tale of industrial decline is by no means inevitable, the shift has spurred the city’s interest in redeveloping all three areas. The fur district has played a part in the downtown condo boom, and the Chabanel area is experiencing a boost due to the howling (financial, if not urban) success of Marché Central.

Despite being surrounded by recent condo developments, and with Ubisoft cranking out teenage antiterrorist fantasies from the older Peck Building just down the way, what to do with the De Gaspé structures is less clear. The buildings themselves lack the charm of the earlier brick industrial structures, with their creaking wooden floors and long tradition of bitchin’ loft parties, along Saint-Viateur and Maguire, and their large floor plates make them difficult to subdivide easily for residential or commercial use. The sheer size of the rectilinear 10-story chunks isn’t mitigated by wide streets or setbacks, the long north-south blocks don’t offer many opportunties for breaking up the ensemble with east-west streets, and the surrounding vacant land stands in long shadows on winter afternoons.

The neighborhood between Laurier Park and Saint-Laurent has been subject to repeated waves of industrial and residential development for centuries, and will be examined in some upcoming entry as a museum of infill strategies. Recent work in the area has varied widely, between sucking horribly and not sucking at all. To wit:

Right: The various projects around the De Gaspé playground feature courtyards and creatively deploy the porte-cochere. The interfaces between the courtyards the park aren’t particuarly graceful, but the combinations of new condominiums and social housing (both in the clusters seen above and on scattered sites nearby) generally play well with one another and fit into a heterogenous local context.

Wrong: Oh fuck no. While the automotive high school at right (formerly located at Saint-Denis and Pins, and DOCOMOMO heads know the deal) won’t win any design awards, it’s in the right place for a utilitarian educational facility (walkable from the metro but next to a busy street, a dark underpass, and a busy freight rail line). The condos (the fake-mansarded shitboxes to the left) won’t win any awards either, and are in precisely the wrong place for residential units (next to a busy street, a dark underpass, and a busy freight rail line). Hope you enjoy your view of a high school loading dock from your $200,000 worth of gyprock and cheap bricks.

An upcoming project to fill in the vacant area along Henri-Julien and Maguire is one of the first projects to cautiously approach the De Gaspé industrial blocks and try to mediate between their bulk and the normal scale of the smaller buildings around them. Though it looks like a number of local firms studied the area — check out this scheme from atelier BRAQ, which includes an excellent analysis of the challenges of residential-industrial cohabitation — Affleck + de la Riva got the contract to design a project of roughly 100 condominiums on the site. This will be the first of three planned buildings to define the street wall and the corner, and taking some cues from the De Gaspé park projects pictured above (by Boutrous and Pratte, among others) they will feature courtyards at the interior of the block, as well as a new street running through an outsized porte-cochere.

Their original, bulkier scheme can be seen here, but the borough pressured the developers to reduce the size of the project, presumably in response to local worries about the scale of the project. Affleck + de la Riva have a rendering up here, which gives a strong unitary impression despite the multiple ground-level entrances and cozier townhouses indicated on the floorplans — think new-build condo in the Faubourg des Récollets, instead of infill townhouse. The evolution of the project can be gleaned from the borough’s presentations and consultative documents, available here.

Update: La Presse lets it be known that the borough is on the verge of announcing a 180-unit apartment building for the elderly as part of the development plan for Maguire, presumably to be located immediately to the west of the building described above. Local groupe de ressources techniques Atelier habitation Montréal is sheperding the process, and the architects are to be Franco Ruccolo and Josée Faubert. 180 units over seven stories is a recipe for a pretty chunky structure, so perhaps it will deviate from the overall plan implied in the documents above.

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