Recreating Social Housing (2nd L.E.A.P competition)
The CCC presents this month the projects and the winners of the second LEAP competition “Rethinking and Redefining Social Housing in the Montreal City Center”. This contest is inscribed in the framework of a research/creation project entitled Social housing as a creative and innovative space and critical agent of the Canadian city centers, subsidized by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada program to support and assist research-creation. This programme has for the past few years, contributed to the renewal and dynamisation of the research that is now impending suspension. This suspension is even more unfortunate since it is the only national programme that promotes the collaboration between the researchers and the creators. Let us remind you that research-creation is a research directly linked to the work of artistic or literary creation which favours the advancement or evolution and contributes to the students' training.
Similar to the first LEAP competition released in Spring 2006, the second contest aims to explore the new ideas that can result from the establishment of social housing in the downtown core and to initiate an architectural, urban and political reflective contemplation on the definition of the city-centers by proposing, this time around, a city and a location. The proposed sector is in fact in Montreal and circumscribed by Guy, Sainte-Catherine, Peel streets, and René-Lévesque Boulevard. This sector is located at the junction of significative zones in the definition of the city center, like the Cité de la Technologie, Concordia University, the large commercial affluent of Sainte-Catherine street, the business center close to two important museums, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Canadian Center for Architecture. The structure of this sector has suffered a considerable decomposition during the past forty-five years and its core is actually primarily composed of vacant lots used for parking. The present time is characterized by the return of the working class to Montreal's down-town core and a transformation of this latter resulting from the construction of luxurious condominiums. The sector up for study seems to represent, in the frame of the competition, an ideal terrain for experimentation.
The results of this research-creation offer a pan Canadian portrait grasping the architecture students' state of thought on social housing and the city. Curiously, in the first competition, like in the second, the work on the urban form was generally set on the detailed study of living spaces, as if the study of domestic spaces only offered a limited field of research and creation. Particularly in the second competition, where it seemed the importance of the urban problematic and the desire to transgress the established order of the alignment, the gauges and the recesses monopolized all the competitors' energy.
Many of the propositions of the second competition witnesses a total disrespect of the existing grid and resort to modular architectures that could easily have been inspired from projects by Archigram or Team Ten, recapturing, 40 years later, some of the ideas realized in the construction of Habitat 67. We could also evoke the urban pedestal of the St-Martin blocks, Benny Farm's irregular façade and the Habitations Jeanne-Mance's wide spaces, devices revisited with great enthusiasm by a new generation ecologically-enamoured (or persuaded of the importance to cover all projects with a green veil), that have urban life, social mixity, and that contain a certain amount of chaos, a vision apparently more serene that of its elders. In the end, the jury was easily seduced by a sensitive project, imaginative and very modest that treated housing at the scale of Montreal's neighbourhoods and that, by its graphic treatment, forgets digital ubiquity.
Rethinking and Redefining Social Housing in the City Centre is a Research/Creation project that is looking to explore innovative ideas for social housing in the downtown cores of large Canadian cities. The goal of the project is to get architecture students to think imaginatively and critically about the built form of our cities in ways that are pertinent to architects, urban designers and the community at large.
Architecture can and should have an influence on the shape of the city and on people's lives. This competition is an opportunity for students to demonstrate how these new spaces can drive:
- an individual's status in the city
- social inclusion
- the idea of home and its function, aesthetic, and shape
- the notions of togetherness and collective living
- cultural life within the city
- safe places for all
- sustainable living
- the interface between public and private domains
Each of these aspects is connected to social housing. How can students undertake these challenges imaginatively and critically using architecture, to show that there's a new way of designing for everyone in our city centres?
Projects such as Jean Nouvel's Nemausus in Nîmes, France and Auburn University's renowned Rural Studio are contemporary examples of how architecture tackles social issues in an innovative and inspirational manner. Nouvel's 4-storey low-rise social housing scheme uses a non-standard tectonic language to create flexible and engaging spaces for its inhabitants. Architecture students participating in the Alabama-based Rural Studio address local needs and breakdown stereotypes associated to poverty by designing, creating, and building while living as part of an underprivileged community.
Similarly, the L.e.a.p. Research/Creation competition is about using architecture as a vehicle for inspiration, change, and out-of-the-box learning.
In the scope of this Research/Creation project, as with all research projects, many questions evolve throughout the process. Students are asked to address some of the following angles, at the same time as they derive their own questions on the topic.
- How can social housing enliven the fabric of our city centres?
- How can social housing satisfy a diverse clientele?
- How can social housing stay current?
- How can architecture be socially inclusive?
- How can an office building, a parking lot, or a sidewalk become multifunctional? (Think of time, space, and multiple dimensions.)
- How can you best take advantage of the meagre tax-dollars allocated to social housing?
- How can socially inclusive spaces adjust to night and day, spring, summer, winter, and fall?
- Should there be social housing for the homeless?
- How can social housing skirt zoning regulations and problems of land availability in the urban core?
- How can creativity and innovation in social housing intersect the commercial aspects that drive the economy of the city? (Think of the evolution of the city in 5, 10, 15 years.)
- How can architecture fulfill our desires?
- How can built form influence the social interaction of people in the urban context?
- How can social housing be accommodated beyond the productive time and space that our city centres are occupied? (Think of the flux of the workforce in and out of the downtown core.)
- How can social housing inform and influence public policy?
- How can philanthropy shape social housing?
- How can architecture create a Utopian downtown core?
- How can architecture, urban living, and empty space in city centres contribute to food production, food security, and self-sufficiency? (Think of urban agriculture.)
Student opinions are unique and invigorating. In the academic setting, students are unhampered by the limits of the profession, be it codes, costs, laws, materials, intent, stigma, or expectations. This competition is looking for students to push the boundaries of their design ability and of their creative ambition to challenge the status quo of our city centres as inclusive, interesting, and fulfilling places to live.
The jury will evaluate the 15 submissions in October 2006, and will award prizes based on their contribution to the research, creation, and critique of new ideas for socially inclusive spaces in the Canadian downtown context.
Georges Teyssot, architect, critic and historian, professor at l'École d'architecture de l'Université Laval, Quebec
- Raouf Boutros, architect, Les architectes Boutros + Pratte, Montreal
- Francine Dansereau, sociologist, honorary professor INRS-Urbanization, Université du Québec, Montreal
- Édith Girard, architect, professor at l'École nationale supérieure d'architecture de Paris-Belleville, Paris
- Oliver Lang, architect, Lang Wilson Practice in Architecture Culture, professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver
- Ian Macburnie, architect, professor in the Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto
In the evaluation of the projects, the jury members consider the following criteria:
- the renewal of creativity and social responsibility in the discipline of urban architecture,
- the potential of the project to stimulate a public discussion on the redefinition of social housing and its integration into the city centre,
- the pertinence of the tectonic, aesthetic, typological, and urban exploration.
This Research/Creation Competition is part of a project led by the L.e.a.p. research team to fulfill its mandate to advance the creative thought process of architecture. Within its mission to promote research activities and the scientific development of projects, L.e.a.p. seeks productive opportunities for potential architecture.
Georges Teyssot, Architecte, historien et critique, professeur
Raouf Boutros, Architecte
Francine Dansereau, Sociologue et professeure
Édith Girard, Architecte et professeure
Oliver Lang, Architecte et professeur
Ian Macburnie, Architecte et professeur
Georges Teyssot, Architecte, historien et critique, professeur