Quebec-based builder Broccolini has launched a public art contest inviting artists to submit ideas to cover a massive outdoor wall at its $140-million Maison Radio-Canada project in Montreal.
The idea of creating public art to honour the heritage of the waterfront neighbourhood was hatched by the City of Montreal at the inception of the project. Broccolini’s director of marketing and communications Jean Langlois noted the sector has a centuries-old history, including a period when the neighbourhood was called the Faubourg a m’lasse — the molasses precinct.
That community, with thousands of residents and numerous restaurants and factories, was razed in 1963 to make way for the first Radio-Canada headquarters, now being replaced.
The contest call went out Dec. 9 and the deadline for submissions is Jan. 15.
“So far the response has been incredible,” said Langlois. “There has been lots of interest, lots of good comments, there are people who are sending us messages, ‘great idea, I know this artist.’
“I think it is a great thing, it involves the community in a building that is going to be iconic in Montreal.”
The canvass — the windowless wall on the Principal Studio building — measures 665 square metres. The four-storey building is located on Rue Alexandre-DeSeve not far from Rene Levesque Boulevard East, within sight of the Jacques Cartier Bridge and the old Molson Brewery plant that was sold this year for redevelopment.
The story goes that the Faubourg a m’lasse designation came from the sweet smell of molasses stored in barrels in the busy waterfront area, aromas that mixed with emissions from the brewery and the Canada Rubber plant in the area.
Broccolini produced an extensive heritage report for the contestants to study, with images of old buildings such as the Ecole ville-marie, the maison Hubert Lacroix, Clark’s packing house, workshops and foundries all potential inspiration.
The once thriving area suffered a decline in recent decades but it’s on the rise again, Langlois said.
“The neighbourhood has not always been the nicest, it lacked a little love, but there is a revitalization going on with the new CBC building a part of that and the Molson site is going to be redeveloped too. We want to give back access to the waterfront to the citizens,” he said.
The expansive broadcast centre site, extending to Papineau Avenue, was designed to be a beacon for the public, said Langlois, as part of the broader community rebirth. The architect was Olivier Legault of the firm Beique Legault Thuot and he will sit on the four-person jury that will select the winning artistic vision.
“The statement that is being made from the CBC, they wanted something open to the community,” Langlois explained. “There is a space where people can gather, you can see right through the main lobby from Papineau so they wanted it to feel welcoming to the public.
“The old facility was dark, this one is all windows, open spaces. In the lobby you can see right into the two major radio studios. We wanted to feel close to the community.”
The build was very quick. Construction launched in 2017 after approval from the federal treasury board. There was limited excavation, speeding the process. Broccolini will hand over the keys any time now, Langlois said, but Radio-Canada will take its time moving in because of new communications technology being employed that will require ample testing.
“We had a huge team on the project, it is something we were proud of,” he said. “It was an honour to have been chosen, design-wise and for our ability to deliver the project. We were going to make sure we did not disappoint.”
Meanwhile, the community will be sitting back as Broccolini works with the winning artist on the art installation. Langlois expects it to be completed without delay next year but right now there is a big unknown — what form the vision will take.
The jury will select three finalists, each of whom will receive $ 3,500 for their proposal. The selected artist will be paid for the creation of their work.
“Implementing this will depend on what is submitted and chosen,” he said. “Depending on the medium and the vision of the artist, that will figure into when it is going to be up on the building. But the sooner the better.”