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Today, the once lively area known as Griffintown, near Peel and Notre Dame, is a wasteland of parking lots used by downtown Montreal's many visitors. But reduce that parking burden, and life could be restored to the neighbourhood. Julie Poisson, Jasmine Chouinard and Lena Buchinger, master's students in the School of Architecture, proposed just that in "The Porous Zone," a project in which the currently barren space between the Bonaventure Autoroute and the CPR tracks would be transformed into a covered multi-leveled parking zone, with a top "green" level featuring pedestrian paths, wild natural spaces and commercial facilities to redirect parking from Griffintown, while also adding some people-friendly facilities.
Their proposal earned them one of five $1,000 awards at Peel ou Faces, an exhibit of 31 graduate student urban design projects addressing the Peel Street corridor from Mount Royal to the Peel Basin at the Lachine Canal. Another McGill Architecture entry, "[Re]Generator: The New Urban Infrastructure," by Po Suen and Lauren Abrahams, won an award for proposing a multi-purpose U-shaped structure over the Lachine Canal that would serve as a conveyor belt transporting salvaged materials from the south to the north side of the canal, an energy conduit collecting geothermal and solar energy and redistributing it to local facilities and a pedestrian bridge.
The exhibit, running from April 21 to 23 at the École de technologie supérieure at Notre Dame and Peel, marked the conclusion of a year-long Peel corridor design project undertaken by master's students at both McGill and the Université de Montréal. McGill's School of Architecture entered 16 projects, while Urban Planning entered one; the Université de Montréal's School of Architecture was represented by three proposals and its Landscape Architecture School by 12.
The project had its genesis at McGill's Challenge of Cities Conference in February 2004, where a one-day collaborative workshop brought students and professionals together to examine the corridor's possibilities. When the topic's pedagogical potential became clear, Urban Planning student Amahl Hazelton gathered geographical and historical information about Peel Street for the participants, and students formed interdisciplinary, inter-university groups to present some initial proposals at an October charette.
"Organizing the project was a big challenge, starting with communication issues," says Hazelton. "Some people didn't speak French and others didn't speak English." However, the initiative encouraged some fascinating and educative interdisciplinary activity. "Where the urban planning focuses on demands and needs of the city, landscape architecture is heavily engaged with philosophy and art in its proposals." It also meant that students were able to benefit from the faculty members at both institutions.
The project, which doubled as the final design studio for the McGill students, is part of a three-year entente between the city of Montreal and the two universities, signed in February 2003 and running until December 2006. Two previous design competitions have explored options for Place Eugène-Lapierre, currently a parking lot at Jeanne-Mance and Maisonneuve, and the largely industrial Acadie-Chabanel district. Celine Topp, director of Lands and Heritage Enhancement Services for Montreal, was impressed by the Peel exhibition. "The city wants to be inspired by this work," she said. "It is very important for us, as we intend to work on Peel in the next few years. The entente provides a new exchange between the city and the universities, which is good for the students and very exciting and interesting for us." According to David Covo, director of the School of Architecture, "The projects have come together very well. There is an exciting range of proposals and ideas."
"After Montreal's amalgamation in 2002, the city decided to involve the universities more actively in urban design," says David Brown, director of the School of Urban Planning. "And the entente has worked out very well. Students have very beneficial access to the city's professionals, and the city gets to see what ingenious ideas our students have come up with."