Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.7

December 2, 2004


Concordia takes leading role in downtown renewal

By Frank Kuin

Left to right: Jonathan Wener, Michèle Gauthier, Martine Lehoux.

Seen at the exhibit in the atrium of the McConnell Building following the seminar are developer and Board member Jonathan Wener, Michèle Gauthier (Groupe Cardinal Hardy), and Concordia's Director of Facilities Planning and Management Martine Lehoux.
Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

With the massive overhaul of the Sir George Williams Campus, Concordia is taking a leadership role in the urban renewal of the western downtown area of Montreal, a panel of urban planners and architects told a public forum in the Henry F. Hall Building last week.

The construction of several new buildings and efforts to redesign the public spaces between them are leading to the emergence of a veritable Quartier Concordia, a cohesive area where the University is asserting its presence, rather than being scattered behind nameless facades.

“We’re marking our place in the city,” said John Zacharias, a professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, who moderated the event.

The forum, titled Quartier Concordia: The Urban Campus, Community and Public Space, was organized by the Concordia chapter of the Planners Network, an international organization committed to promoting socially just and environmentally sustainable planning.

Participants discussed the challenges faced by the university in its physical growth, ranging from the tension between a greater assertion of Concordia and the area as a public space, to efforts at incorporating art and heritage in the new complexes.

Michèle Gauthier, a landscaping architect with Groupe Cardinal Hardy, the firm that designed the winning concept for the refurbishment of the Quartier Concordia, outlined plans for the area. They include wider sidewalks in front of the Hall and McConnell Buildings and a reconfiguration of Norman Bethune Square.

“The overall objective of the Quartier Concordia project is to define the campus better within the downtown area,” she said. That goal is to be met by creating more pleasant public spaces and establishing clear links between the different complexes.

Norman Bethune Square, in front of the GM building, is to be expanded into a welcoming meeting place. In addition, de Maisonneuve Blvd., the main thoroughfare dividing the campus, should be “rebalanced” to favour student interaction over motorists.

Pierre Gauthier, a professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, offered a historical perspective on the creation of the urban campus, observing that in Concordia’s case, “the downtown campus configuration is the direct result of the creation of the de Maisonneuve Blvd. thoroughfare.”

The extension of de Maisonneuve Blvd. into the Concordia area has created a “fundamental structural problem,” but the University’s expansion is now partly responsible for a “healing process.”

Members of the audience raised some concerns about Concordia’s assertion in the neighbourhood. Some took issue with the name Quartier Concordia, noting that the university shares the area with businesses, residents and the Museum of Fine Arts. They were assured that the name was intended only as a working title, not an official new designation.

Others expressed fear that the university’s new complexes would create a “barrier” along Ste-Catherine St. that might prompt shoppers to turn back at Guy St. rather than continue along until Atwater.


“There has to be continuity, we don’t want a break point,” said Jean Giguère, head of an interest group of businesses and institutions between Guy and Atwater Sts.

In response, panelist Clarence Epstein pointed out that the new Engineering and Fine Arts complex will bring new metro access to the shopping street.

“If I was a retailer on Ste. Catherine St., I would be quite happy about the building.”

Epstein, Director of Special Projects for the Concordia University President’s Cabinet, also presented on some of the initiatives to integrate art into the new construction. A major mural by Fine Arts professor Holly King, an artist-photographer, will greet visitors at the metro level entrance to the new complex.

In addition, three restored murals that Concordia saved from the old York Theater will be integrated in the Art History amphitheater on the main level of the Visual Arts pavilion.