The Odea, a new building in Montreal, is set to be a showcase for design while harnessing cultural contrasts into something new.
Lemay architect Jean-Francois Gagnon spoke about his collaboration with renowned architect Douglas Cardinal on the project at a session titled Design as a vehicle for truth and reconciliation at the American Institute of Architects A’23 Conference held earlier this month.
The project, a 25-storey mixed-use residential building owned by the Cogir & Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Company, is located at the gateway of downtown Montreal on Robert-Bourassa Boulevard and is designed to reflect Cree culture through the shape of the building, including an inverted canoe shape forming the front of the structure.
“It was a vision that Douglas had, in the beginning of the project, seeing a canoe shape going north on the Hub and West Street that would stand out of the building. But that was not an easy task because we had to carve the canoe shape in the building and it came at the end of the process because we needed to have efficiency,” Gagnon said.
“We’re carving the canoe shape and we’re removing a lot of square feet, but it was the main (Indigenous) element, so that has to stand out coming from the north or from Robert-Bourassa Boulevard.”
The structure is also built with several resting places, including a small circular park area that is open to the public.
“The city is so fast, everything is moving so quickly and the location of the building, it’s like a gateway to the downtown area,“ Gagnon said.
“We thought we needed a place that would be caring for people where they could gather together and take time for themselves, take a pause in the day. So, it’s a bridge to bring people from Ottawa Street to this secret garden, the ‘art’ of the project. It’s interesting to bring in a developer to have this space to give back to people at some point,” Gagnon said.
Other facts of the building will include studio space for Indigenous artists to both work and for the public to gain a better understanding of their art, and Gagnon added the entire project is an attempt to add to the narrative of reconciliation between Canada’s Indigenous people and settlers.
“If we can understand our differences and bridge the gap, the project will be a success,” he said. “At the beginning of the process we didn’t know each other. We didn’t know that culture, and I think that being together, listening to each other, we evolve and by reducing this difference and proximity. I think that’s the purpose of the project at some point.”
Gagnon also praised Cardinal as a guide through collaboration with the Cree people as they went through the design process.
“Douglas helped us to manage all decision-making, to go fast in the process because we were really on a tight schedule,” he said. “We went through a vision session to have a design driver, a strong narrative that will be embedded in the aspiration, identity, culture, symbols and traditions of the Cree community in the project.
“It wasn’t an easy task, but the people were so interesting, and for me meeting Douglas, meeting the Cree community and the people (involved) in the project was a great experience, really thoughtful. I’m really fortunate to have been in that process,” Gagnon said.
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