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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Great article and photos.

In Full View: Public Space In Montreal

The Evolution Of Public Space Design In Montreal Is Veering Towards Minimal Expression To Support The Natural Ebb And Flow Of Human Activity.

In a vibrant city, architecture can have its moments as a spectator sport and one such moment is the spectacle of a downtown construction site. Montreal's most exciting downtown construction site in recent years has been the Saint James Cathedral refurbishment on rue Sainte-Catherine, the city's main commercial thoroughfare--the project attracted more rubbernecking and pedestrian pauses than any other site in recent memory. This attention was all the more remarkable since no buildings were actuall beingbuilt--the project consisted of the demolition of a commercial building dating from the 1920s and the creation of a new square designed by Claude Cormier. The magnificent sculpted stone façade of Saint James Cathedral, hidden for more than 70 years, now presides grandly over the new square and participates actively in the sidewalk life of rue Sainte-Catherine. While this might not have been what Mies van der Rohe meant by his aphorism "less is more," the project argues that the creation of a void in a city can be considerably more exciting than the construction of a building.

In many ways the story of recent public space design in Montreal has been a story of moving from more to less. The city core boasts an impressive inventory of public spaces ranging in age from colonial squares to contemporary corporate plazas. During the last 20 years, the design of both historic refurbishment schemes and contemporary projects has been marked by a gradual shift towards a more minimal expression. The most successful of recent projects are evidence that well designed urban space is simple, flexible and free of physical encumbrances. What public space is about is human activity; what it is not about is architectural objects. The great urban spaces of European cities are precisely that: spaces. What fills them is the ebb and flow of life--events, experiences, activities. Rather than aesthetic, formal or visual concerns, the measure of success of a public space is the degree of vitality it achieves as a support for human activity. The Nolli Map, architectural history's quintessential mapping of urban space, is more than a plan of solids and voids--it is a celebration of potential experiences.

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