Stairway to the Horizon
By treating a vacant space of 40 metres between two domes, this competition program, as rare as it is in architecture, invariably evokes this other contest, almost mythical now, for the construction of the Dome of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Awarded to the brilliant Filippo Brunelleschi in the mid-fifteenth century, it inaugurated, no more nor less, the consecration of the architect’s role to that of the medieval master builder. More modest, both in terms of budget and function that is both spiritual and lucrative, the competition launched at the end of 2017, by Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal, chose the project by Atelier TAG / Architecture 49, which, it seems, has retained the lesson of the Florentine master: it is not enough to solve the constructive question, rather one must strive to communicate it with wonder, conviction and pedagogy.
The miracles of Saint Brother André still lead many pilgrims to climb the steps of Saint Joseph's Oratory, on the northwestern side of Mount Royal in Montreal, in an act of penance that intoxicates believers and frightens specialists in osteoarthritis and knee surgery. By offering to multiply the different experiences at the museum level, the oratory management will soon add an unexpected event, as physically demanding as it is architecturally sublime. It will consist of a circumvolution along a ramp in the shape of a rolled-up sail on the interior dome, culminating towards access to the lantern, hitherto forbidden, which will offer a complete panorama on the horizon of Montreal.
Four teams were called to reflect on this unprecedented question, four groups of architects and engineers in fact, given a task which was both technically and spatially challenging:
- Atelier TAG / Architecture 49 / Stantec / SDK
- Architecture EVOQ / BPA / NCK
- Provencher Roy / Pageau Morel / SNC Lavallin
- Affleck of the Riva / Henri Cleinge / Martin Roy / Lateral / DWB
Let us note from the outset that the spiritual aspect, in a contradictory way, was bypassed or misunderstood by the competing teams. In any case, this is evident from the jury report chaired by UQAM Professor Carlo Carbone: a report whose drafting, precision and transparency are, for all intents and purposes, exemplary. While the functional, museum and engineering integration components were each allocated 25% of the score, the spiritual component was limited to 15%, and not more than the 10% attributed to "potential for animating and interpreting the design concept of the inter-dome". How to explain this shift in the understanding of an architectural mandate whose objective is summarized, in an eminently transcendental way, to an inner ascent? It must undoubtedly be the mark of both the metaphysical and financial natures of the project, as it is difficult to imagine that this inter-dome experience will be as free as the ascension of the front steps on one’s knees. "The jury notes that the four proposals have not developed the desired spiritual criterion", a jury which, furthermore, regrets that the treatment of the "draper" in the winning project "does not translate as clearly on a spiritual level", while paradoxically reproaching the project of Provencher Roy, a concept which "rests on a control of the light which lies outside the mandate’s scope". It would have been thought, however, that the quality of light could spiritually accompany the pilgrim in an ascent.
In which case, what was the purpose of the project?
To understand the possible experiences offered by observation platforms installed at the top of the largest buildings Mandana Bafghinia reminds us, in her doctoral research, that Place Ville-Marie, in a strange way, did not involve a belvedere at the beginning. Corrected since, such an oversight is all the more surprising as the Empire State Building’s platform was almost the only income during the economic crisis of the 1930s. All in all, with a meagre budget of $ 13.5 million for such a unique and symbolic place, it is suspected that the jury, like the direction of the Oratory, concerned with economic realism, mainly gauged the technical and material feasibility of the projects: 50% of the points went to the functional aspects and to the integration of engineering.
In general, the teams produced the same number of documents, but significant differences can be noticed in the graphic delivery of their messages. The comparison of visualization strategies is quite enlightening, since it evokes an immense interior space, dimly lit, which is almost impossible to account without resorting to a general section, since models were not accepted. If the perspective section probably assured the success of Atelier TAG / Architecture 49 consortium’s presentation, we note above all the impressive amount of additional technical plans - mechanical and structural plans - which visibly reassured through "a clear, thoughtful and relevant mechanical approach". For both this team and Provencher Roy, we note a very small number of schemes and diagrams, while the plethora of construction details offered by the EVOQ team contrasts with the small amount of constructive information scattered on the boards of Affleck de la Riva, which might explain the jury’s comments about how their proposal was "structurally risky".
The comparison between the teams’ graphical choices on their presentation boards is also striking. The winning team’s compositional mastery is largely based on a clever dosing of the figure-ground ratio: a strong visual element, usually a rendered perspective, floating clearly above a bed of technical information, complex, but harmonized using subtle gray tones. Provencher Roy's graphic design, on the other hand, seems too complex, hierarchically dissonant, and displays a variety of colours that are sometimes gaudy, which is generally damaging when attempting a serene reading of the concept. Some purplish tones reminiscent of the aurora borealis may have led the jury to label this project as too "futuristic". Although the EVOQ team, like Provencher Roy, played on the colours, the range of hues of salmon hue creates a coherent thread that supports the highly technical side of the concept. Finally, Affleck de la Riva deploys their project following a rigorous and airy graphical grid, but all too schematic to properly evoke the variations of the atmosphere. The renderings all received an orange treatment that seems to echo the stained glass windows existing at drum-level, but the absence of a perspective section, illustrating the atmosphere in the inter-dome, has clearly complicated the understanding of the proposed space. This was a fatal mistake for this project, as it is now clear that this competition has resulted in four readings of the dome through a section.
- The main section of the dome for Affleck de la Riva is simplified with little narrative qualities, and especially it is uninhabited. It sometimes serves as a summary diagram of circulation, sometimes as a strongly captioned didactic section, emphasizing the many aspects of the standards upgrading expected by the program. The section says nothing, evokes nothing more than plans and, in some cases, fades the dome.
- For Provencher Roy, the section is actually flooded with light. But the choice of a yellow light whose fluorescent tint is neither realistic nor truly mystical, does not help the understanding of the project’s qualities. This same clumsy yellow goes so far as to tint the characters meant to give the scale of a project that takes flight only in certain perspective views that inevitably echo astronomical observatories. Although it actually illustrates a myriad of floating candles projected on the dome, a quick reading creates an analogy with a scientific device. The Oratory certainly did not want us to confuse its dome with a technical object and at other times, in the face of diktats of the Church, Galileo knew how to change the virtues of reason in the face of those of faith.
- The EVOQ / BPA / NCK team used a very rich range of representations through their section: sometimes technical, sometimes shaded, always didactic. Visibly admiring the structural elements, concrete and steel, a dome erected in full modernity, the designers couldn’t resist maintaining the gray tint of concrete throughout their boards. It remains that the sections thus presented recall these beautiful drawings of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, showing these great big globes, sometimes technical objects, sometimes panoramic machines, which we praised in world’s fairs. If the demonstration is perfectly coherent from the point of view of the strongly tectonic concept of the project, the celebration of the existing architectonic structure (the jury will note the quality of the patrimonial approach) however risked turning the spiritual ascent into a constructive apotheosis. This team pushed the analysis to produce beautiful study models and we guess that the great rendered section was probably heavily influenced by the technical lighting of these objects that could not be presented to the jury.
- Only the winning team used the alpha and omega of the section, namely the perspective section. In Atelier TAG / Architecture 49’s project, there is only one section on each of the three boards: sometimes a purely schematic representation of the user’s journey, sometimes dedicated to the principles of ventilation - a crucial question - and the whole project is perfectly summarized in one perspective section showing not only the proposed device, but its relation to the interiority of the basilica. Digging the section into the basilica increases the vertigo and the staging is reminiscent of those dissection theatres that fascinated the few initiates during the Renaissance. It is equally a reminder of these beautiful drawings that illustrate the popular books on the operation of cathedrals or labyrinth mazes: everything is said in a single section both narrative and explanatory.
It appears, however, that the jury certainly hesitated, particularly among the projects of TAG and EVOQ, since it concluded that "none of the proposals (offered) a convincing solution to the problem of circulation and access control of the museum and the inter-dome, and by the same token, the proposed locations of the ticket office". In other words, in the absence of a spiritual journey, it would have been desirable to ensure the best financial management of this new manna for the Oratory. Remaining quantitative, this same jury has calculated point by point the merits of the projects to finally agree that the one from consortium Atelier TAG / Architecture 49 - Stantec SDK should prevail while highlighting some of its merits:
- The quality of the presentation and the expression of the future potential for project; the jury perceived a sensitivity to listening on the part of the team.
- The quality of the presentation and the graphic design facilitated the understanding of the project.
- The depth of the project’s analysis through its various components, including mechanics.
- The ingenuity of the concept through the use of the veil hiding or revealing the existing elements, such as a breadcrumb trail unifying the different levels of the museum's oratory.
- The promising potential of this guiding idea as to its modulation according to places and functions.
- Respect for existing infrastructure and their development by the veil.
- The development of the reserves by the proposed views on the white reserve.
- The evocation of an animation potential independent of the architectural concept.
- The conceptual approach allowing an adaptation of the interventions throughout time, in a spirit of durability; a reversible project.
- A clear, thoughtful and relevant mechanical approach facilitating its integration into the existing.
- A demonstration of the potential for respecting the budget thanks to the simplicity of the architectural gesture.
The budget would have been respected so much that it may be necessary to speak of a small miracle in a competitive situation, since the external consultant responsible for assessing the jury's proposals beforehand have noticed that the TAG / Architecture 49 project did not use the entire budget. Transcendence all the more remarkable that the jury will call thereafter "a certain dosage in the use of the veil; it aims to veil and unveil elements without creating architectural forms”. The work of God cannot be reformed, so it would be unlikely that budget overruns are now acceptable in the construction phase.
It will remain to find a name for what will become a world-class attraction. The contest organizers have been cautious about "phase A-4" in the official documents. It is clear that the concerns raised by the use of the term "observatory" are based both on possible confusion with the pure scientific dimension of an astronomical observatory - the Oratory is not a university pavilion - and probably also on homophony between the observatory and the oratory. It remains that it is indeed an observation platform. In the form of a final revelation, we would gladly suggest that the good old term "belvedere", whose origin is architectural before being landscaped, serves as a point of reference and get visitors, believers or not, to experience an inner ascent of the Belvedere of the Oratory.
Jean-Pierre Chupin, Maxime Leblanc, Raphaëlle Leclerc
Saint Joseph's Oratory is a work of the Congregation of Holy Cross, whose fathers and brothers are also at the origin of Notre-Dame College in Montreal, where Saint Brother André was a porter. Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal is a non-profit organization (NPO) whose revenues depend in particular on donations and the sale of various products. It enjoys a national and international reputation. It is interesting to note that the Congregation played an important role as an artistic patron. Indeed, art is omnipresent on the site of the Oratory (architecture, music, painting, sculpture, mosaic ...). These different artistic forms are integrated into the site and testify to its rich heritage.
Recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2003, Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal is a vast pilgrimage site of the Roman Catholic Church located on the north side of Mount Royal in the city of Montreal, Quebec. Dominated by the immense dome of the basilica, the place is a landmark visible for miles around. The pilgrims enter the premises by crossing the gates of the enclosure and following an alley lined with gardens to a set of buildings whose basilica is the central point.
As part of the development of its Master Plan for Development, to which phases A2 and A3 are in production, Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal wishes to complete phase A4, which will allow the finalization of the vision of the basilica's architects: access to the space between the dome of the basilica and the outer dome, to its culminating point, the lantern, a unique observatory in Montreal. This stage represents the final element of this unique architectural ensemble. To this project is added the redefinition of the museum component of Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal and the redevelopment of its museum.
Phase A4 aims to improve (museum) and develop (between dome and observation center) the experience of the pilgrim and the visitor during their journey in the Oratory by a renewed and improved route. This phase includes the upgrade of the exhibition hall and reserves, the creation of a new multimedia interpretation and animation center in the inter-domes, and the accessibility of the observatory. This work will create a new circuit focused on architectural, heritage and cultural discovery, independent of the one leading to the basilica.
The exceptional design of the dome has created a huge, unique space. At its maximum, the vertiginous height separating the domes inside and outside reaches 40 meters (131 feet). The design of the inter-domes aims to create a circular space on two levels, a ring that would allow the passage of a large number of people. The exterior wall consists of stained glass and windows that offer a 360° view of Montreal. The development of this site will create a large circular exhibition space stripped of ceiling, which can also accommodate various events.
All the stated objectives will contribute to the enhancement of the cultural and museum component of the Oratory and this unique space that is the dome, its architectural signature. This project will promote the visibility of its architecture and position it among the great domes of this world.
- the creation of an integrated museum concept, adapted to the physical and spiritual environment
- optimization of the exhibition area and reserves in the available space
- the integration of the museum visit circuit with that of the inter-domes
- the development of a concept favoring the flexibility of development of exhibition areas
- exploitation of existing fenestration and natural lighting in the visit circuit
- upgrading of the museum hall and some of the reserves
- bringing the exhibition sector envelope up to standard
- universal accessibility
- respect for the significant elements of this space
- their development, in architectural and structural terms
- the creation of floor areas offering optimization of layout flexibility for exhibitions or events
- the creation of spatial experiences integrated into the visit circuit
- the exploitation of views and accessibility
- the harmonious integration of vertical circulation with existing structures
- exploitation of natural lighting
- the integration of mechanical systems to the whole
- acoustic treatment
- development of a concept of development conducive to multimedia animation
- harmonious integration of upgrading measures; CNB, ASHRAE
- universal accessibility up to level 202
- respect for the integrity of its envelope
- the exploitation of views and accessibility
- the development of an interpretation-friendly layout
- integration of standardization measures; CNB
- The ticketing must be common to the museum and the inter-domes, and be accessible from the two entrances, the esplanade and the hall.
- The box office must be in the shop, with which she must share the staff.
- Access to the museum must be from the shop.
- The entrance to the esplanade must allow free access to dioramas.
The objective of budget compliance is included in all the proposed interventions.
Carabin, François, L'oratoire Saint-Joseph dévoile l'accès à son dôme, Métro, 2018
L'intérieur du dôme de l'Oratoire Saint-Joseph subira une cure de rajeunissement, HuffPost Québec, 2018
Nouvelles 247, L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph dévoile l’accès à son dôme
Annonce des 4 finalistes du concours d'architecture pour l'aménagement du dôme de la basilique de l'Oratoire, Kollectif, 2018
Lancement d'un concours d'architecture pour l'aménagement du dôme de la basilique avec un jury international, Kollectif, 2017
L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph lancera un concours d'architecture pour l'aménagement du dôme de la basilique - un espace unique!, 2017
L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph dévoile le lauréat du concours d'architecture pour l'aménagement de son musée et du dôme de la basilique, 2018
Concours d'architecture à l'Oratoire Saint-Joseph, Portail Constructo, 2017
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L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph se dotera de «la plus haute fenêtre sur Montréal», La Presse, 2018
L'équipe Atelier TAG et Architecture49, finaliste au concours d'architecture de l'Oratoire Saint-Joseph, a49montreal, 2018
Atelier TAG, Architecture49 et leurs partenaires, lauréats du concours d’architecture organisé par l’Oratoire Saint-Joseph pour l’aménagement de son dôme, a49montreal, 2018
Projet d’aménagement, L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal
Delgado, Jérôme, L’accès à la plus haute fenêtre de Montréal sera enfin possible à l'Oratoire, Le Devoir, 2018
Oratoire Saint-Joseph : dévoilement du lauréat du concours d’architecture, Portail Constructo, 2018