The cultural campus of the Montreal Museum of Fines Arts (MMFA) is comprised of four existing pavilions: the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion (1910), the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion (1976), the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion (1991) and the recent Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion (2011). This new addition will be the fifth pavilion of the campus, and will be built on Bishop Street. Whereas Sherbrooke Street as grown over the years to include larger-scale towers, Bishop Street has retained, as has most of this commercial area of Montreal, its 19th-century scale of Victorian houses. The project was conceived to address both of these scales simultaneously.
The cultural campus of the MMFA consists of an assemblage of distinct pavilions, each of which functions somewhat autonomously, as much from an architectural perspective as from a programmatic one. The museum’s pavilions evoke their own specific eras and provide commentary on the particular roles that the institution has played in society over time. This is expressed through a diversity of architectural styles and anchored in the unique circulation concepts of each respective addition.
In the Fifth Pavilion, intergallery spaces are integrated to promote a shared cultural experience between visitors. The proposed spatial concept shapes one’s encounter with the work of art and its environment by offering an experience that is at once more intimate and participatory. In addition to functioning as a jewel box for collections, the space of the museum today participates in the mediation of art, rendering it more accessible to the public.
The socio-spatial apparatus of an event stair unfolds into an informal architectural promenade, suspended in the city, animating the Bishop Street façade and offering visitors a momentary interlude from the contemplative experience of the galleries. This pause allows them to re-establish a connection to the city and the community beyond the walls of the MMFA. As an interior urban promenade, fluid and filled with light, the stair offers spectacular views of the mountain and the river, which become important reference points that help to orient museum visitors. The event stair is also a place for meeting and socializing intended to instigate a sense of belonging; it facilitates active public participation by enabling a shared cultural experience and encouraging impromptu conversations on art.
In order to unify the two distinct volumes comprising the project, the Fifth Pavilion is dressed in a delicate lacework of limestone. The pivot point joining the two building masses is expressed on both interior and exterior surfaces by a vertical ruled surface that delineates the porte-cochère from the alleyway. Beyond the porous textured surface of the stone, the Fifth Pavilion appears as a cohesive whole that is animated by changing light throughout the day. In the evening, the museum’s illuminated gallery spaces emit a soft backlight that dematerializes the delicate stone lacework and brings to life the activity on the event stair. This warm space, clad in wood, is revealed to the city in the form of a transparency. Through this filigree veil of stone visitors are able to perceive all the different functions of the lobby and of the vertical space that bridges between the life of the city and the life of the museum.
The history of the MMFA is tied to the use of white Vermont marble. However, it is interesting to note that the material’s association with the museum is an almost mythical one, in particular because the Maxwell brothers originally proposed the use of locally sourced limestone for their design in 1910. This grey sedimentary stone contributes greatly to the city’s urban identity, and the new addition’s realization in limestone will allow for a more coherent integration with its immediate built context. The limestone will be detailed and realized by using prefabricated construction processes. The stone lacework, porous and ethereal, dematerializes the stone’s veining, creating a pattern of void and mass.
- CLIENT Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
- ARCHITECT TEAM Manon Asselin Architecte (Atelier TAG)—Manon Asselin, Katsuhiro Yamazaki, Pawel Karwowski, Mathieu Lemieux-Blanchard, Éole Sylvain, Cédric Langevin. Jodoin Lamarre Pratte—Nicolas Ranger, Sergio de la Cuadra.
- STRUCTURAL Nicolet Chartrand Knoll (Jacques Chartrand, Guillaume Leroux)
- MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL SMI Enerpro (Pierre Levesque, Fabien Choisez)
- LANDSCAPE/INTERIORS Manon Asselin + Jodoin Lamarre Pratte Architectes en Consortium
- CONTRACTOR Pomerleau Inc.
- RENDERING Doug & Wolf
- ACOUSTICIAN Jean-Pierre Legault
- BUILDING CODE GLT+ (Serge Arsenault)
- ELEVATOR Exim (Pierre Grenier)
- AREA 3,870 m²
- BUDGET $17.5 M
- COMPLETION July 2015
KM: I particularly like the “lacework” of the limestone façade and its verticality. Behind this screen, the architects have created a playful route up to the various galleries with controlled vistas down Bishop Street and into courtyard gardens at different levels. The upper levels projecting over the sidewalk and the transparency will indicate its presence as one walks or drives along Bishop Street, and the animation from the people moving about will signify the building’s importance.
MM: One hopes the architects can achieve the level of transparency that’s shown here. They have pushed the main stair to Bishop Street allowing a clear reading of the activity within, whereas the galleries are pushed to the east out of the light. The cantilever is a bold move within the context of Montreal’s earlier fabric of these north-south streets.
MS: The strength of this project is in the way it addresses the street as an infill, mid-block building. It’s contextually sensitive, and at the same time incredibly bold. From a façade standpoint, the selection of stone as a material for a filigree screen overlaid onto the all-glass façades is a great move in terms of the specific urban condition.