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BY BRIAN BARTH

Claude Cormier cracks a smile.

 

FROM THE APRIL 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

When Claude Cormier, ASLA, and I pull up to Dorchester Square in Montreal, a man is leaning against the grand fountain, with its three Victorian bowls, all painted a very Victorian shade of green, smoking a cigarette. When we get out of the car, I realize it’s not a cigarette, but a joint. “If you want to buy pot in Montreal, this is where you do it,” says Cormier, in heavily accented English—and he begins to tell me the story of how his firm transformed this historic park into a place that winks at the past, while winking in a few other directions as well.

First developed in the 1860s, Dorchester Square is an oasis of ornate statuary (Queen Victoria; a military horse; and Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first Francophone prime minister, are all commemorated) and manicured flower beds set amid regal edifices that testify to the city’s railroad-era wealth. Claude Cormier + Associés has been working on improvements to the park (as well as an adjacent green space, Place du Canada) since 2000. In 2015, the firm was selected to restore the northern end of Dorchester Square, a section of which had been lopped off long ago and repurposed for parking. There had not been a fountain in the park previously, but Cormier thought it would make a fitting focal point. Dorchester Square sits on top of an underground garage, and there was a load-bearing column positioned in just the right place to support a 30-foot-high steel fountain at the end of the park’s long axis. There was only one problem: The city said it needed a few extra feet to accommodate the tourist buses that embark from the adjacent block. Those few feet nixed the alignment with the supporting column.

“The city said, get rid of your fountain and design something else,” Cormier tells me, patting the fountain. “And I thought, no, I’m not taking out the fountain.” (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Carré Casgrain in Montreal. Photo by Alexander Cassini, ASLA.

The reasons that Alexander Cassini, ASLA, got involved with the Carré Casgrain community garden in the Little Italy neighborhood of Montreal are as common as such green spaces should be. It was a chance to get to know neighbors, “foster a feeling of belonging,” and a way to “feel rooted in something real,” he says. Since the fall of 2017, Cassini, a landscape architect with Claude Cormier + Associés, has worked with a group of a half-dozen neighbors to plant, maintain, and program the space.

It all went pretty much according to plan. As a landscape designer, Cassini says his role has been “offering a bigger vision” and sketching out simple plans for the 2,000-square-foot garden. Planting mounds extended into the rectangular site from concrete blocks painted with playful depictions of plants and produce, smiling carrots, and stacked bowls. There’s open space for event programming, and lights and festive flags are strung overhead, all typical of the block-level intimacy community gardens use to beguile. Cassini and his neighbors, calling themselves “Le Carré et sa Ruelle” (French for “The Square and Its Lane”), grew cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and strawberries. They hosted BBQs, movies, concerts, and even a lecture about ways to minimize one’s trash footprint. Monarch butterflies were frequent guests as well. But for Cassini, “the fun part is that besides those more organized events, it also took off as an informal space, [where] you could just walk from work and see a couple neighbors having a drink there, hanging out,” he says.

But the good times came to an end in October 2019, after three seasons of planting and harvesting, when Albino Del Tedesco, the owner of the vacant lot the community garden sat on, sent out a backhoe to tear the garden apart, raking over the one-and-a-half-foot mounds with a diesel engine. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Image courtesy Raphaël Thibodeau.

For a temporary installation celebrating LGBTQI Canadians during Pride Month, Claude Cormier + Associates created a rainbow canopy to acknowledge a spectrum of identities that are “plural, diverse, inclusive, and nuanced,” as the firm’s website states. Asked to “create a place with a sense of magic” for a summer pedestrian mall, says Claude Cormier, his firm didn’t want to clog the streetscape with more visual noise as thousands of people in a festival atmosphere walked Saint Catherine Street East in Montreal. So instead, they looked up, forming an outdoor room with one kilometer’s worth of recycled plastic balls strung up on wires.

Six principal colors are differentiated with three hues each, hence the title of the installation (“18 Shades of Gay”). This long strip of color (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

In Montreal, a giant, multiyear art installation blends technology and history.

FROM THE JUNE 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

The face appears like an apparition. Ghostly white and mottled by leaves, it floats, disembodied, turning to look at viewers as they walk along the Old Port of Montreal toward the old clock tower, where a 30-foot-high woman floats as if in water. These giant video projections are two of 24 mesmerizing tableaux created as part of Cité Mémoire, conceptualized by the visual artists Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon and the playwright Michel Marc Bouchard for the 375th anniversary of the founding of the city.

Beginning each night at sundown, the installation tells the story of Montreal through a series of five- to seven-minute vignettes, each of which features an influential (if sometimes obscure) character from the city’s history. The filmed scenes are projected onto buildings, trees, and cobblestone alleyways, and viewers, armed with a mobile app and headphones, make their way through the city, listening to the characters’ thoughts and an original score. (Inspired by Chicago’s Crown Fountain, for which the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa projected the faces of some 1,000 residents onto twin glass block towers, the faces in the trees belong to 375 modern-day Montrealers.)

Developed over five years, the $18 million project debuted in spring 2016. (Funding has come from a variety of government grants and corporate sponsors.) This May, the city unveiled four new stories. Unlike so many video mapping installations, Cité Mémoire eschews frenetic and brightly colored lights and instead treats the often intimate, sometimes harrowing scenes more like “animated murals,” in Lemieux’s words, (more…)

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The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

CITÉ MÉMOIRE, LEMIEUX PILON 4D ART.

From “Face Time” in the June 2017 issue by Timothy Schuler, about the in situ video art projections that are showing Montreal the hidden faces of its history.

 “Saint City Lights.”

–CHRIS MCGEE, LAM ART DIRECTOR

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 700 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

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