The urban housing project, Irène, located in Montreal’s borough, St-Henri, exemplifies innovation as a valuable design tool to individualize a building within the City. Perforated aluminium panels were customized into a novel exterior building envelope that screens the upper three storeys of an addition above an existing industrial building. Drawing an analogy with a theatrical curtain, the metallic skin acts equally to veil and to reveal the activity within, serving a performative function that adds a touch of spectacle to the neighbourhood.
The design process was prominently embedded throughout the building; the steps taken during conceptual design and the research & development phases lead to the decision to make an architectural feature the iconic persona of the project. Irène substantiates the incorporation of a poetic concept in conjunction with a challenging technical innovation to give rise to a functional, viable and aesthetic project.
The site presented the opportunity to renovate and restore an existing two-storey industrial building dating back to 1938. A considerable effort was made to study and understand both the residual building and the surrounding context, presently undergoing substantial urban revitalization. For the three-storey addition, the approach was to create the impression of a light and floating volume atop the existing, heavier base — a contrasting superstructure that, by virtue of its difference, gives rise to a dialogue between old and new, tradition and contemporary, the building and its surroundings.
A play of transparency and opacity defined a perforation pattern that made use of three distinct hole sizes and spacing. These modular panels created an overall image replicating the curtain analogy. Much like a skin, this perforated metal cladding on the south facing facades, allows the building to breathe, while serving as a passive sun shield. Its user-operated panel system lets occupants control variables like ventilation, daylight and privacy.
Research & Development
Translating the conceptual image into a tangible product was a complex procedure entailing extensive research and design, modelling, testing and on site trouble-shooting. Precedence for this type of building envelope system in our Northern climate was not readily available. The user-operable components needed to be designed to withstand the climatic challenges, such as freeze/thaw cycle, snow/ice interference and wind loads. A full-scale mock-up of the paneling system was erected to study issues of operability, aesthetics, feasibility, durability, waterproofing, wind patterns, solar screening (optimal perforation size) and transparency/opacity for light and privacy concerns. This allowed a refinement of the facade system before final on-site validations.
The distinctive architectural feature that characterizes Irène offers innovative functionality that aids in comfort, convenience and efficiency in everyday life. For the occupants, this skin serves as both a privacy screen and shield enhancing the living experience in a number of practical ways; permitting daylight, allowing direct natural ventilation and controlling intimacy. The operable modular shutters offer a control of views and environment through simple bi-folding mechanisms. The building users actively participate in establishing the interior experience by altering the facade through their daily routine.
The culmination of individual experiences creates an overall shell that echoes the interior environment. From the street view, the result is a dynamic façade with shifting shutter patterns, transformative quality of light and illumination of individual units; all reinforcing the notion of the building as a living entity. The curtain generates an emblematic image that promotes a sense of proprietorship and belonging to the community.
KANVA is a multidisciplinary practice centred on contemporary interventions in the urban landscape. Based in Montreal, the firm was founded in 2003 by Rami Bebawi and Tudor Radulescu. Three divisions co-exist within the organization, Architecture, Management and R&D, which stimulates raised levels of innovation, design and sustainability. Every project, whether residential, commercial or site-specific installations, is seen as an opportunity to explore a narrative, enhance the built environment, and to expand the practice of architecture.
Photographers: Jimmy Hamelin, Marc Cramer, & KANVA