Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No. 2

September 25, 2003


The greening of Mackay Street — five storeys high

by Barbara Black

Photo of Braen, Baier and Brown

Designers Bruno Braën, Nicolas Baier and Hans Frederick Brown take a break from their work.
Photo courtesy of Nicolas Baier

A glimmering, leafy glade is the arresting image that will fill the huge exterior east wall of the new Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Complex, now under construction on Ste. Catherine St. between Guy and Mackay Sts.

The artist is Nicolas Baier, who attended Concordia and is making a name for himself. His work is in the collections of virtually all Quebec’s public galleries, and just last night he launched a show at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC).

His monumental design for the Concordia building is one of the largest commissions ever made under the so-called one-per-cent program, the Politique d’intégration des arts à l’architecture et à l’environnement, according to which buildings financed by the Quebec government must include a work by a Quebec artist. In this case, the budget for the art work is a record $420,000, higher even than that earmarked for the new Bibliothèque national du Québec.

The design fills an immense curtain of glass that is 22 metres, or about five storeys, high. Applied to one of several layers of glass, its components are translucent, transparent and reflective, changing constantly with the natural light. The design will not block light entering the building; at night, it will be artificially illuminated.

A striking design that evokes Concordia’s diversity, the art work will be on the Mackay Street side of the building, which houses the visual arts, and will be visible looking west along Ste. Catherine St. from a great distance.

Baier said in a phone interview that he has been working on his design every day since last November, and gives credit for his achievement to two collaborators, Hans Brown and Bruno Braën, who together make up the design firm Cabinet Braun Braën.

The work involves scanning tiny bits of about 10 photos of a houseplant, and manipulating them. Originally, Baier said, he wanted to have people in the design, but to reflect Concordia’s diversity, he would have had to include too many individuals to be practical. He decided on a plant in his own home, and calls it “a unifying image.”

The Concordia work is typical of Baier’s earlier work. Visitors to his show at the MAC will see more recent pieces that are quite different (“and weird”), but they are also sophisticated photo manipulations of everyday things and people.

The jury who chose Baier’s design for the new building comprised Concordia stakeholders, government representatives and external art consultants.

The new building is steadily rising and is expected to be ready for occupation in September 2005. Excavation for the new John Molson School of Business, on the opposite side of Guy St., is expected to start this winter.