Power

In the early 1980’s, aluminum giant Alcan (that’s apparently their official name, by the way: “aluminum giant Alcan”) located their headquarters in a renovated heritage hotel on Sherbrooke, inserting newly built low-rise wings behind the hotel to wrap around the Greek Revival Salvation Army church to the south. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness of the project was hailed as a kind of charitable intervention on the part of Alcan, a nice gesture to the city — they could have fatally cut themselves off from reality in a suburban office park, or recklessly built some huge speculative skyscraper with their name on top (only to lose money on the deal when paying tenants didn’t take the bait), but instead chose to do something sensible that met their needs. Nobody disputes the quality of the architecture involved, but let’s credit their good sense in pursuing their own interests before we credit their generosity in incidentally respecting ours.

Now comes news that Alcan is expanding their mini-campus, by building a 15-story tower on top of (behind? beside? nobody knows) the same church, purchased from the Salvation Army. A $58 million project altogether, relatively small potatoes, and yet the announcment was attended by the mayor, the premier, the economic development minister, and a crowd of media (the recent announcement of a new $135 million skyscraper on de Maisonneuve entailed neither a pile-on of politicians nor banner headlines). All this when they admit they weren’t even considering moving their headquarters out of town. Maybe it’s the half-billion dollars of subsidies and “loans” (don’t worry, they’ll just get written off — after all, it’s not like there’s banks or a stock market that could provide capital to firms like this) that Quebec has thrown at Alcan in the past few months.

In BC, Alcan is threatening to cancel a smelter project unless the (publicly owned) BC Hydro buys surplus hydro from them at $71 a megawatt-hour. This is power that Alcan generates using (publicly owned) water for $5 per megawatt-hour. In South Africa, Alcan is gearing up to incur 4.7 million tons of carbon emissions per year at its new smelter, using electricity from coal-fired plants. This is after it negotiated hard for a good deal from South Africa’s (publicly owned but partially privatized) national electric utility, Eskom, which specifically entails eliminating Eskom’s ability to redirect the resulting profits to reduce power bills for the impoverished black citizens — an undesirable “cross-subsidy” — to whom it denied service under apartheid.

Alcan giveth, sure. But boy does it taketh the fuck away.

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Place des Arts roundup

Since its original conception in the late 50’s, Place des Arts has served as the focal point of a whole range of redevelopment schemes — some demolition-heavy attempts to remake entire blocks at a time, others attempts to retrofit more ambitious programs to a more incremental building process and to improve their interface with the street. Now, along with the new OSM hall slouching towards whatever secret public-private Bethlehem they’re cooking up in Quebec City, plans for the Balmoral block due in February, and a new office tower due on Sainte-Catherine, there’s a flock of projects and prospects large and small that promise to consolidate the eastern flank of downtown.

Big map (slicker this time, don’t you know?) and then the rundown.

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Working the corner

The lot at the corner of St-Laurent and Mont-Royal has never lived up to its apparent potential, much like the past several restaurants in the space immediately to the south (Savannah made some waves with the kind of nouveau-Southern food that would work well in an American city but lacked cultural cachet up north, while 55° has caught love for its wine pricing but doesn’t appear to be any better than Savannah was at filling enough tables to meet what must be a pretty high rent). It looks like it would make an ideal spot for a packed terrasse, but has been curiously empty (permit issues? sheer disinterest?) save for some indifferent landscaping.

As these things will happen, a sign appeared suddenly annoucing that all of that was going to change. Allied Properties Real Estate Investment Trust, which already owns two heavily-renovated commercial buildings nearby, the Balfour at Prince-Arthur and the catichily-monikered 4436-4450 St-Laurent (home to the aforementioned restaurant space), is looking to develop six stories of commercial and retail there, to be managed by Groupe Immobilier de Montréal (which manages 4416, 4428, and 4436 St-Laurent).

The rendering below doesn’t promise a creative solution to the constraints of the site, and the kind of reliable high-end tenants that big-money building managers and REITs love are exactly the kind of snoozers that are killing that stretch of the Main: giant empty stores full of giant leather couches for some asshole’s giant empty loft. At the very least we already have a sufficient density of Subway and Pharmaprix locations around the intersection that we will likely be spared additional sources of nail polish or oddly-textured cold cuts.

No love, motherfuckers. If you want to make money on the Main you had better step your game up.

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.

Schizophrenia

Heartwarming holiday fare as the elderly take on a selection from Sister. Perhaps the Roulant can do something similar with old Nils or Secretaires Volantes tunes.

Benn there, done that

And while we’re on the subject of articulate leftists that aren’t on the radio often enough, the Guardian puts out an mp3 of an interview with left Labour stalwart Tony Benn. Guaranteeably more entertaining and informative than anything on pusillanimous NPR or the CBC, as man with the pipe and the crisp shirt says things like:

The shift from Stalin to Blair is a minor adjustment.

Canadian politicians generally don’t get to talk like this, and when they do they eventually lose their shit and steal rings and resign and then have to run against Hedy Fry.

Life of Riley

It’s hard enough to come up on the streets of Oakland, where the pimps come out at night and the whistle pipes go wooo. Now, courtesy of Counterpunch (one hopes to read Cockburn weighing in on Lil’ Wayne or sharing some delightful bon mot from Tariq Ali about Young Jeezy), comes sad news that Boots Riley and the Coup have suffered a bus crash near San Diego. Riley is a black man with a spherical afro, his bus-mates rap tour veterans, and this passel of bloodied Communists were standing by the side of the highway next to a fifty-foot bus in flames and nobody stopped because drivers thought they were Mexican:

For a while no one stopped to help, supposedly because the thought we were “illegal aliens” crossing the border. Eventually some great folks stopped and helped. Silk E has two broken ribs and a punctured lung. Wiz has a broken nose, two deep lacerations to the head, and a shattered knee. Zhara has injuries to her hand and had to undergo surgery. Carter had to get stitches to his head and lip. The driver, Glenn, has a broken jaw.

The full account can be read here. Consider donating to help these underrated rap soldiers get back on their feet. And next time you see a San Diegan who has just suffered an accident, lock the doors and keep driving, because you never know.