U2 studio Fall 2008

Professor Pieter Sijpkes' section

"Architecture is the design and construction of  physical structures that  envelop and nurture a host of human activities that support  social structures"
-the 'in-house' definition of architecture for the purposes of this studio-

Design project


In the U2 studio we attempt to introduce students to the design of buildings of modest scale and complexity in urban settings (generally in Montreal). The aims of the studio are mani-fold, and vary from section to section, depending on the expertise and interests of the instructor. The variables addressed in this section of the studio can generally be grouped into the two classes:  physical aspects, relating to the hardware aspects of a building such as the choice of materials and of structural systems and the way these aspects harmonize with the existing context, and  the social aspects of a problem, such as the way the builing design enhances interaction between those who spend their days there and the way the use of a building meshes with the already existing activities in the neighbourhood.

A sheltered workshop in Point Ste Charles

The design problem:

Design a mixed-use building which will include a sheltered workshop with some live-in accommodation for people with reduced abilties from the larger Montreal area, and which will also feature some social and retail activity space to benefit the overall community of  Point Ste Charles.

The client is a hypothetical non-profit corporation incorporated in the Province of Quebec, that is mandated to own property, manage  a non-profit business, and accept tax-deductable donations in order to full fill the goals set-out in the charter of the non-profit corporation. One key goal of the corporation is to gainfully employ and house people with reduced abilities in order to make it possible to participate as fully in society (socially, economically) as their  capabilities allow.(We will collectively discuss what exactly the mandate of this corporation might be.)

The idea of creating special places to  employ people 'with reduced abilities' on a community scale dates back to Victorian England. Before that most people with handicaps were cared for in a family setting and contributed as well as they could to family-originated commercial activities, (including habitual begging.)
See references.


 In this section special attention will be given to the following aspects of architectural design:

at the social end of the scale:

Context (in this case the neighbourhood of Point Ste Charles)

Social relevance of the project (the opportunity for people with handicaps of various kinds to meaningfully participate in society through renumerated work in a supervised setting)

at the physical end of the scale:

how does the building 'fit in' the context of the immediate surroundings in an architectural sense. Does it try to blend in? does it try to stand out ? Does it advertise its purpose ?

The Site

A scanned version of a chapter on "The four lives of Point St. Charles" by Pieter Sijpkes in the book Grass Roots, Greystones and Glass Towers, Bryan Demchinsky editor:

The site for this project is in a mixed part of a mixed neighbourhood. Point Ste Charles has been the mixed neighbourhood 'par excellence' since the first European settled there in 1658. At that time it became a farming community. (We will visit the Ferme St Gabriel, founded in 1668).
 In 1825 the Lachine Canal was opened and the neighbourhood became a thriving mixed area of industries and workers' housing. The opening of the Victoria bridge in 1860 strenghtened this role, and till 1959 (when the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened), the Lachine Canal basin formed the largest concentration of heay industry in Canada. All that changed after 1959, and by the early 70's Point Ste Charles and all the other Lachine Canal Basin communities (St. Henri, Cote St. Paul, Ville Emard, Lasalle and Lachine  languished with abandoned buildings and high unemployment rates,  after the industries moved away and people moved to the suburbs. In the early 70's a major change occurred in the neighbourhood when the Green Line of the Metro was extended from Atwater to the current terminus at Angrignon. The Charlevoix Metro station gave for the first time 'equal access' to the area, after centure of relatively tortured access over bridges or though a tunnel that strongly isolated the neighbourhood. It was in the late 70\s that interest in the area perked up, and the revival has been steady since. Industrial buildings have been turned into upscale housing, the canal zone has been turned into a very successful linear park and the canal itself has been reopened to pleasure boating.
An important, little noticed fact::The population of the area has decreased dramatically since the 1950's; at that time there were almost 35.000 inhabitants, while the most recent sensus enumerated only 13.500.

The street

Rue Augustin Cantin offers an interesting record of the transformations of the area that have been going on over the last 30 or 40 years. Several buildings have been transformed from industrial use to residential use, empty sites have been infilled with new housing, and the Northern electric building at the Easter end of the street has, after its closing in the 1970's been used for almost twenty years for a mix of small businesses, and will, over the next few years, be converted into one of the biggest mixed-income housing projects in the country.

The site chosen is a 22 meter by 40 meter square lot on the North side of the street. We will make a site visit to record the border conditions and the topography of the site.

Our project follows the edicts of 'slow architecture. Acroos the Canal, in Griffintown there is now a grandiose project of 'fast architecture'

The Program- An outline

All building design projects have to be based on a program; this consists of an outline of what functions will be served by a building and what kind of spaces are to be created to fulfill those functions.
The program in this project will be defined by our joint efforts over the first few weeks of the studio.
The basic functions to be accommodated are, in outline:
1. a versatile work space where various workshop contract functions- such as assembly of parts, packaging of goods, sorting of goods and manufacturing of goods- can be executed.
2. basic facilities such as an area for receiving and storage.
3. A  multifunctional 'store front' area  where goods may be offered for sale, but where also the interface with the community will take place in the form of a small coffee shop. (Many 'depanneurs' in the are fulfill this dual function of a place of sale and a social centre by virtue of a brewing pot of coffee and cups on shelf in the store, overseen by the shop owner; in summer this function often spills over in the street).
4. A private administrative office is needed to store records and to serve as the home of basic management operations, record keeping, communications and private one on one meetings.
5. A small grouping of private rooms with communal kitchen and bathroom facilties is needed to house homeless or out of town  co-workers.  
6 Basic amenities such as a  kitchen, washrooms and storage, 
7 Parking for the project van and maybe one or two cars.
8 A garden that should be as peaceful and sunny as possible.

Site usage.

For the purposes of this project it is assumed that we are free to set our own reasonable rules for the use of the site. (This is very much at variance with 'the real world'; neighbourhoods are very tightly 'zoned' as to the kind of uses that are allowed and the kind of occupancy  is permitted (e.g. the % of the land used, set-backs, views, heights, modes of access.)

Buildings less than three storys in height do not require an elevator; most of Point St Charles is two or three storeys in height.

Schedule of activities

This project will take all or most of the time this term.

Week 1
Reading the attached references.
Next Friday area and site visit.
Week 2
Next Monday afternoon discussion session and planning of the term's work.

Wednesday-Discussion and ArchiCad tutorial by Prof. Mellin
Friday Presentation by Leila Farah, showing vegetable growing in a community context.
at 2.00 Tutorial by Professor Mellin.
after that a group meeting in room 101 to organise:
* the making of a group site model 1: 100  ( 5 or 6 people)
* the collection of info on structural systems suitable for a building on our site. (5 or 6 people)
Week 3
Presentation on Wednesday afternoon September 17, starting at 2.00 in Room 101

Montreal in Evolution by Jean Claude Marsan; a classic overview of the history of the City of Montreal:
Classic history of the area "The City Below the Hill" by Herbert Ames Brown (1897) available in the library and on line :
A scanned version of a chapter on "The four lives of Point St. Charles" by Pieter Sijpkes in the book Grass Roots, Greystones and Glass Towers, Bryan Demchinsky editor:
McGill digital archives:
A short animated history of development of Montreal:
A very interesting article on sheltered workshops for the blind:
Sheletered worshops for the elderly
Which clients should a sheltered workshop serve?
The Handicapped in the workforce
The sociology of disabled persons:
Philip Johnson: "The seven crutches of architecture"
Interview with Mario Botta