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Recreating Social Housing (2nd L.E.A.P competition)
by Anne Cormier, published 2007-10-01
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.
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