The Royal Architectural Institute today issued the following statement regarding Maison Alcan in Montreal. The statement has been sent to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and the Quebec Minister of Culture and Communication Hélène David.
OTTAWA, September 30, 2015 – The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) has become aware of a project to construct a 30-storey tower on the site of Maison Alcan which would have a major impact on the nature and integrity of this outstanding architectural achievement, as well as that section of Sherbrooke Street in downtown Montreal. Architectural projects that can be said to have changed local and national attitudes about building are few and far between – Maison Alcan is one of those exceptional projects.
At the end of the 1970s, when respect for existing buildings was negligible, and design of a new corporate headquarters meant the imposition of a tower onto the city, Ray Affleck of Arcop Associates and David Culver, president of Alcan, conceived a project that integrated existing buildings and contemporary construction and created an ensemble. This innovation – considering the site as a part of the city and its fabric and not as an isolated object – created a new place within the city block that was open and accessible to the public.
Maison Alcan changed how Montrealers and, in the RAIC’s view, how Canadians understood the value of their built heritage. They saw contemporary architecture’s capacity to contribute positively to this heritage through relevant, rightly scaled and high-quality design for corporate buildings and civic spaces. This is in some ways not surprising given the commitment to architecture evidenced by the architectural lecture series which Alcan sponsored from 1974 to 1992. If a good project requires a good client and a good architect, Alcan was that good client.
Arcop was a well-established firm when approached by Alcan, its reputation built on some of the major projects of the 1960s. These included Place Ville-Marie and Place des Arts in Montreal, the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Maison Alcan represents an evolution in the architectural expression of the firm, marked by the reuse of existing buildings and a preoccupation with the experience of people inside and outside buildings. Architect Ray Affleck was deeply conscious of the place of Maison Alcan on Sherbrooke Street and how people who walked down the street would understand it.
In light of these facts, the RAIC sees no reason to adopt any measure such as amending the current bylaws. Allowing a commercial high-rise on Maison Alcan would threaten its integrity and value as an inspirational legacy and reference. We ask that any current procedure to that effect be suspended and that Maison Alcan be designated, as an ensemble, under Quebec’s Cultural Heritage Act with the holding of independent hearings for this purpose.
ABOUT THE RAIC
The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada is a voluntary national association, representing about 5,000 members. The RAIC advocates for excellence in the built environment, works to demonstrate how design enhances the quality of life and promotes responsible architecture in addressing important issues of society.