The urban paradigm of a complex devoted to cultural or administrative programming all too often takes the form of a fortress, an architecturally segregated development that divides the entity from the flow of everyday city life. For this competition Gabellini Sheppard Associates proposed an alternative model, one that opens itself to both the city in which it is located and the unique geology of its site. Our design engages its environment physically and conceptually in both past and present tenses.
The design concept is derived from the physical history of the location. The entire project is elevated, following the natural site contours, onto a plateau, reminiscent of the area’s glacial past. Like a glacial flow, the ground plate encapsulates rocks and minerals within it. Here they emerge organically as the buildings form on the site.
The administrative building is an elegant slim structure; like a tower of basalt, its form is prismatic and divided along its width by a fissure of green tourmaline crystals highlighting the shifted planes. The Maison de l’Orchestre Symphonique is conceived as a luminous blue sapphire gem visible through a faceted amethyst enclosure. This gem enclosure rises from the underground in a dramatic cantilever supported by another emerging quartz crystal form that contains the great hall of the OSM. The two forms spring from the underground levels encapsulating crystalline forms suspended within. The conservatoire extends from the OSM towards de Maisoneuve and Ste. Catherine as two twisting amber tubes trapping and encasing numerous mineral and ore-like volumes.
In response to the already-existing rich cultural milieu of the Isle Balmoral site, we propose an open and accessible network of buildings. Instead of internalizing its public space and obstructing through-block circulation, as do the adjacent mega-blocks along the north-south axis of the Place des Arts, our design creates multiple physical and visual processional connections to adjacent streets. In this way, we are introducing dynamic movement and flexibility throughout the complex.