How This Square Commemorates the old and Embraces the New
Article by Irmak Bilir – Square des Frères-Charon, by Affleck + de la Riva Architects, in Montreal, Canada.
Small beautiful public spaces can be the signature of the cities to which they belong. Square des Frères-Charon is this kind of public space in Montreal, Canada, designed by Affleck + de la Riva Architects. It has become an essential component of McGill Street’s larger network of historic spaces and a key element in Montreal’s cultural tourism branding strategy. It provides identity, civic pride, and generous outdoor areas for all-season public use.
In the year 2009, when the project was constructed, it won three design awards. There are various components which make the square fascinating but some reasons are at the forefront like respecting its history, cooperation, and participation.
Square des Frères-Charon
Commemorating the Old
Before the 17th century, the area where Square des Frères-Charon is located was a marshy meadow located outside the walls of Old Montreal. Then, a windmill had been installed on the site, by the Charon brothers, who were the owners of the land. Later, the area was used for the storage of construction materials and for car parking. Now, in the 21st century, historical remembrance is still alive there because the Square des Frères-Charon project respects the history of the area and seeks inspiration from it.
Remembering the Windmill
The windmill no longer stands; it was demolished in 1840, but the two axes of the square were designed like the propellers of the mill. One of them connects the northeast and southwest corners and the second one connects the southeast and northwest corners of the square.
The main axle has a darker pavement than the outer part of the square; the second axle is quite narrow and a little bit lower than the main axle. It looks like propellers which are viewed from not the front but the sides. And the paving stones are rectangular in the main axle, yet they are small squares in the narrower pathway.
Design Details and Wheelchair Accessibility
The site is a rectangular pavement with filleted corners in the midst of four streets, and a big circular planting area which is a little bit lower than the pavement, and which is divided with two axes which are overlapped. The street-level public domain was designed to be comfortable for wheelchair accessibility. The surface of paving is coated with light granite corresponding to Old Montreal. The pavement inside the intervention invites the passers-by to come across the square.
A Meaningful and Functional Park Pavilion
A park pavilion is in the form of a belvedere-folly, which is perched on the site. It houses the technical equipment for sewers and provides access to infrastructure and technical services by a 20-meter–deep cylindrically-shaped underground tower. Access is possible with stairs but it is a long way to the base.
A Place to Enjoy the View
A collector is located inside and it is one of the largest sanitation and water control facilities in Montreal. The belvedere also has some spiral stairs to go up, but much, much less than at the bottom. The access is provided from the street side and it has a vertical, linear texture with a few openings. It also provides a view to the area from above and a seating element for those who want to enjoy the view.
The planting design of the project also commemorates the past. As a reminder of the original landscape and the site’s natural state, a meadow consisting of grasses and shrubs was installed. No tall trees were used for the planting design of the project; instead, tall grasses and shrubs offer a fairy-tale aspect.
Sustainable initiatives include the planting of local species of wild grasses which take a significant load off the municipal irrigation system and the use of durable Quebec granite for hard landscaping and the cladding of the park pavilion.
Seating and Lighting in Design
The seating elements which are back-to-back are located in the middle of the main axle and some of the benches are recumbent at the axle’s edge. The others are interspersed at the outer parts of the square, next to the lighting. Furthermore, the square has a specifically-shaped drinking fountain.
The lighting of the project is pretty colorful, it is provided by the various size vertical lightings which surround the square and with smaller lights which are on the inner side and on the pavilion.
The Power of multidisciplinary Work
Square des Frères-Charon is the result of a rich inter-disciplinary collaboration and an innovative consultation process. The design team’s main members were an artist, an architect, and a landscape architect. The team’s objective was to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries, collaborate, and converge on common ground rather than divide and distribute tasks according to habitual professional domains.
No Project is Wonderful Without Public Participation
The design team worked at encouraging and facilitating citizen involvement in the design process with communication tools. As well as roundtables and public presentations, a citizen-friendly communications channel was set up on Montreal’s web portal. It helped to connect and exchange ideas between the public and the design team.
The latest information about the project’s progress was on the website; moreover, the citizens could comment on the viewpoints of others appearing on the site, and they could write their opinions on the future of the square. This platform was a bridge between the design team and citizens for creating this impressive square. And in the end, the citizens could enjoy their new space, which they had participated in its process.
Affleck + de la Riva architects state that “The project uses a simple, refined, and minimalist architectural language to create a dialogue between circular and cylindrical forms including a garden of wild grasses, the vestiges of the windmill and a park pavilion in the form of a belvedere-folly. Complementing these gestures, the lighting scheme proposes a chromatic garden that alludes to the changing seasons.”
Square des Frères-Charon commemorates the old and embraces the new. It is a real team project with its multi-disciplinarity and the intense public participation, so the different views and perspectives provided a spectacular design. It is not surprising that the project was the recipient of three design awards in 2009.
Full Project Credits For Square des Frères-Charon :
Project Name: Square Des Frères-charon
Location: Montreal Canada
Area: 1 640 M2 / 17 650 P2
Completion Date: 2009
Cost: 2 200 000,0 $can
Photographer: Marc Cramer
Affleck + De La Riva Architecture And Urbain Design
Robert Desjardins Landscape
Raphaëlle De Groot Arts
Éclairage Public Lighting
Sandra Baronne Horticulture
Morelli Designers Inc. Industrial Design
Moitiémoitié Exposition Inc. Museology
Genivar Structural / Mechanical / Electrical / Civil
Quartier International De Montréal Constuction Management
Terramex (Landscape) / Celeb Ltée (Pavilion) Contractors
Floor: Quebec Granite & Eastern Cedar
Walking Paths: Quebec Granite
Furniture: Eastern Cedar, Painted Steel & Stainless Steel
Illumination: Colour-changing Led
Plants: Wild Grasses
Others: Galvanized Steel (Railings)
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