Capturing views of tomorrow’s inclusive city
Launched on June 15, 2020, this competition, addressed to students of the four faculties of design and architecture in Quebec, called for innovative approaches, in a context of humanitarian, climatic and health crises. The development of student projects coincided with major social upheavals, from the significant deterioration of public health caused by the first waves of COVID-19 to repeated and umpteenth instances of crimes and injustices committed against visible minorities all over the world. All spheres of design are now involved in the implementation of various solutions to address these issues: in order for our society to evolve in the face of the above-mentioned crises, the practice of architecture and the legislative framework surrounding the profession must change. To this end, can the innovative thinking that "Repenser la rue commerciale" incites be a vector for the evolution of the architectural profession? Can we perceive, among the solutions that were proposed, views which may capture tomorrow’s inclusive city?
The competition's commission is based on a study of the archetypal case of the commercial street, introducing the adoption of a new and very appropriate "urban paradigm" : inclusive design. Inclusivity is a concept in architecture that aims to respond to the urgent needs of an urbanity that is considered outdated and unhealthy, based on the various social disorders that affect us today. Guided by this principle, "Repenser la rue commerciale" aimed to "examine and reconsider the visual, spatial and functional aspect of our main streets" by inciting analyses on how the relationships between establishments and streets are organized.
Using the example of a shopping street of their choice, competitors were asked to consider spatial and relational concerns such as the relationship of "businesses and public places to the outside world". Nourished by a reflection on these topics, the program encouraged the adoption of a holistic mode of intervention through the interweaving of scales of intervention, from the street to the built environment. It is thus expected of the competition to be a place of experimentation that can generate new avenues and stimulating reflections in order to find architectural approaches which may transform our cities.
The competition is developed on two scales: first, "[...] that of the spatial organization of a business (a restaurant or a bar for example) or a public place (library, office, etc.) and [second] that of the street. On the one hand, the project may consist of the redevelopment of an existing street, or on the other hand, it may take the form of the design of a completely new street. Out of a total of 20 proposals, only 6 projects were commented on by the jury composed of Anne Cormier, Sinisha Brdar, Jean-Bruno Morissette, Nik Luka and Jean-Philippe Simard.
The proposal "L'envers du décor" received a special mention from the jury. The project is located on the eastern edge of the Quartier des spectacles, on the block bordered by Saint-Laurent and Saint-Dominique streets, between de Maisonneuve and Ontario. The team defends "the model of a human-scale commercial street as a tool of resilience in times of health and ecological crisis", by proposing a bipartite intervention with regard to the pair of streets framing the intervention site. While Saint-Laurent Boulevard is the stage, Saint-Dominique Street plays the role of backstage, doubling the "exchange interface with the street, by activating the rear façade of the premises. This allows two businesses to share the same space while maintaining their distinct identity. Despite the detailed level of atmospheres and ambiences, the jury determined that "the proposal was a little too focused on the interior and not enough on the public space of the exterior street.
The "Shared / Separation" project advocated a minimalist approach in response to the often carbon-intensive modes of architectural intervention. It is by criticizing this major scourge, perpetuated by construction practices now condemned, that the project is articulated around a carbon neutral aim. The sole use of planters would allow to easily modulate the aspect of a commercial street where cars, bicycles and pedestrians circulate. The urban limits contract or dilate to the rhythm of these public furnishings, forming a green edge that limits the contact between sidewalk and street and widens the pedestrian and commercial sector by bordering the car lanes. If "the jury's curiosity was piqued by the analysis of the temporality of the design and the ephemeral, cyclical aspect of the street's activities", it notes that "the need to move the bins and low walls twice a day seems to require a bit too much logistics".
"La randonnée du Mont-Royal" tackled the characteristic crampedness of public spaces in Montreal. Social distancing, in particular, motivates this approach. The team suggests "transforming the street into a pedestrian street in order to encourage active transportation and to allow businesses to take over the public space. The intervention extends over a length of 500 meters, between Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Saint-Denis Street. While the jury showed some interest in the concept, the conversion of Avenue du Mont-Royal into a pedestrian street "did not seem to be a feasible or very daring intervention at the architectural level" - the jury suggested instead that the project be transposed to other sectors of the city.
"Proximité sans contact" opted for a reorganization of Montreal's streets and alleys based on the Dutch "woonerf "model. In contrast to the organization-by-segregation of all North American road networks, the "woonerf" dictates that "all users cohabit in the same place : no physical barrier [exists] between cars and pedestrians or buses and bicycles". Pedestrians have priority and the road space is cleared to facilitate social distancing. Montreal streets that adopt the Dutch model will be punctuated by so-called generic structures: "[...] some forty modules, or cubicles, [will be] arranged. Each cubicle can be arranged in a different way depending on the activity that takes place there: integrated furniture (table, partitions) will be hidden in the structure. The jury appreciated the graphic treatment of the presentation boards, while underlining the lack of articulation in the dialogue between the shops, the street and the neighborhood.
"De-Hierarchize the Commercial Street" was the second prize-winning project that sought to break down the hierarchical and rigid organization of Montreal's commercial street. The project calls for a transformation of the urban space into a multifunctional ecosystem at three distinct scales. Pedestrian spaces are widened by keeping only one lane reserved for motorists. Businesses with street frontage are remodeled, allowing a more hygienic organization of their interior spaces. Finally, the project appropriates the alleys of Montreal, embodying spaces that are ancillary and complementary to the streets. The jury noted the richness of the explanatory text and appreciated "that the proposal leads to the alley and the backstreet, as if the streets were expanding into more intimate and intriguing spaces. However, the drawings were described as "dreary". In addition, the project makes "use [of] a typology inspired by Melbourne and Brussels, which is less well adapted to Quebec winters".
What can we learn from this competition? All the projects answer the commission with architectural strategies that are concerned with the quality of urban architecture and its impact on common themes such as greening, public health and the quality of public spaces. However, with the notable exception of the winning project, the proposals fail to truly address the issue of inclusiveness. By sidestepping socio-cultural issues related to the location of the project and its users, these proposals remain incomplete in rethinking the city in light of current social crises.
On the contrary, the "Trait d’union" project is located in the Petit Maghreb district, along Jean-Talon East, between Saint-Michel and Pie-IX boulevards. The sector where the project intervenes "corresponds to the head of blocks of Jean-Talon Street between 14th Avenue and 17th Avenue". This location is notably characterized by the following problem: "the street [Jean-Talon] is ill-adapted to the fight against climate change as well as future health crises", while "the population of the neighborhood is extremely vulnerable to social exclusion and segregation in the commercial offer". The project also highlights the eclectic nature of the built environment, with the neighborhood's design "not allowing for generic street-level strategies”. In addition, the area lacks vegetation and a high degree of mineralization [contributes] to the formation of heat islands." "A lack of active transportation incentives [encourages] a strong automobile presence and narrow sidewalks [make it] difficult to respect physical distancing standards”.
Thus, the project is deployed through six components:
- The vegetation of the street, serving to balance the energy contribution of the buildings and create islands of coolness.
- The substitution of reserved transportation lanes, currently used as parking lots, by modular insertions on the entire street - these interventions allow for collaboration between the city and the commercial associations.
- The extension of sidewalks to storefronts joins the creation of stimulating routes to engage passersby in the journey.
- A spread of businesses on the sidewalk with seasonally adapted deployments proposing a street that invites itself into the private domain and businesses that extend ont public space in order to encourage local consumption.
- The development of urban furniture encouraging interactions and gatherings in front of facades, a practice already anchored in the Maghrebian community, while respecting a layout allowing for physical distancing.
- The development of plazas at the head of the blocks should make it possible to eliminate parking at the intersections to create spaces that can be appropriated by the residents, reinforcing the attachment of the local population to the neighborhood and combating gentrification.
The jury praised the "mature and coherent" character of the project, while emphasizing the quality of the presentation, in the form of a "lexicon of strategies to address a variety of situations". It is said, however, that some of the interventions, in the form of plots, are "perhaps not as relevant and coherent as desired," but the jury appreciates "that the many issues regarding the commercial street and regarding society (both cultural, health and environmental) are broadly addressed”.
This competition proposed to rethink the city, at the scale of the urban fabric as well as that the of the fragment (the street, the square, the cadastre, etc). This approach notably refers to Cerdà's theories of urbanization, to projects such as Ludwig Hilberseimer's "Hochhausstadt" and to Le Corbusier's "Ville contemporaine pour trois millions d'habitants" - all works which aim to provide an alternative relational organization of urban fabric. The nature of the relational fabric of the city was then conceived as a vector for organizational productivity - in the words of Giorgio Agamben, this conception can be described as a "managerial paradigm" (Aureli, 2011).
In 1924, Mies Van Der Rohe suggested that "architecture translates the will of an epoch into space" (Mies Van Der Rohe, 1924). This formula is an indication of the importance of hygienism and the economy of urban space in the modern era. If we transpose this notion to our contemporary reality, how may we characterize, through architecture, the will of the present day? Today, inclusivity is a key principle that architecture must embody. Rather than stating objective generalities, the inclusive paradigm considers each case as particular: the user is no longer a generic abstraction, but a human subject. Intervention zones are now seen as localized areas - neighborhoods, street corners shaped by the daily life that animates them. Of all the proposals presented as part of the "Repenser la rue commerciale" competition, the winning project best addressed this notion by paying particular attention to the "many issues regarding the commercial street and regarding society [...]", to the communities affected by the potential urban intervention, and to the heterogeneity of the built environment. If the architecture of the future is to be inclusive, the "Trait d’union" project captures an enticing view of tomorrow’s urban spaces.
Aureli, P. V. (2011). The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture. The MIT Press.
Mies Van Der Rohe, L. (1924). Architecture and the times.
Charrette interuniversitaire | Repenser la rue commerciale. (2020, June 20). Kollectif. https://kollectif.net/69320-2/
Lauréats | Charrette interuniversitaire | Repenser la rue commerciale. (2020, July 11). Kollectif. https://kollectif.net/laureats-charrette-interuniversitaire-repenser-rue-commerciale/
The worldwide pandemic and the environmental crisis we are currently facing force us to reconsider many aspects of the organization of cities. The unprecedented sanitary restrictions have deeply affected our relationship with nearby stores. Commercial streets, usually vibrant with various events and social interactions, have been shut down. These main arteries, where commercial, touristic and residential functions come together, are meaningful public places that greatly contribute to the dynamism of a city.
The goal of this competition is to reconsider visual, spatial and functional aspects of main streets. Take for example a commercial street in your neighborhood. Considering the new sanitary conditions and the global aim of increasing cities' resilience to environmental change, what new patterns of organization can emerge to shape interactions between buildings and streets? What is the relationship between shops and public spaces, both indoor and outdoor? This competition focuses on two different scales: the scale of a shop (restaurant, bar or hair salon for example) or a public space (library, office), and the scale of the street. How do these two scales come together? What kinds of organization patterns can you imagine to address the current sanitary and environmental crises?
Your proposal must show, with compelling graphics, a new planning proposal for a portion of a commercial street. Two different approaches can be taken: you can choose to work on an existing street, or to create a new one with its own typology, as long as you show how it responds to current sanitary and environmental requirements. Your proposal must clearly illustrate the relationship between the two scales. The length of the street portion you decide to work on is your own choice, nevertheless it must show various possible planning configurations. The evaluation will be based on the relevance of the proposal towards sanitary and climatic issues, the originality of your design and the graphic quality.
(From competition's documentation)
First of all, the jury would like to congratulate the richness of the proposals and acknowledge the work of the students who participated in the competition. The 5 members were unanimous; the projects were inspiring, of high quality and the collaboration between students from the various universities certainly enriched the experience.
Few architecture and urban design competitions are organized in America, compared to Europe, and the jury was pleased to see the students' interest in this kind of event.
However, the jury regretted not seeing more proposals that addressed the issue of heat islands and the greening of commercial streets. They would have liked to see more work on vegetation in urban areas. Despite the short duration of the competition, rainwater management would have deserved to be addressed.
On the other hand, the issues of temporality and the cycle of the seasons have been little addressed, which is regretful in a Quebec context. Winter lasts nearly 6 months in the province and designers and architects cannot ignore this aspect. Confinement can further affect people's mental health during the winter, which is why it is essential to provide pleasant outdoor facilities even in the presence of snow and cold, to encourage people to get out and move around.
Another concern noted by the juries in some proposals was the lack of differentiation of street types; sometimes the distinction was not clear between complete streets (with vehicles and pedestrians), narrow streets, shared streets and strictly pedestrian streets. Dedicated lane widths were often not specified.
On the other hand, despite the richness and diversity of the proposals, the scale of the interventions was often limited; ideas were proposed without always presenting the consequences and impacts on adjacent streets and urban fabrics.
Finally, the proposals were mostly focused on the city of Montreal, which is not bad in itself, but few questions were raised about the different types of commercial streets (e.g., suburban street, commercial strip, etc.) and few proposals were submitted for smaller cities.
(From jury report)