November 25 2013

Reflections on Contemporary Architecture and Drummondville, Quebec, Canada

An aerial view of Drummondville, Quebec.

Should a cultural heritage site, or a street with 19th-century architecture, be obliged to retain its traditional design and architecture? In my opinion, this is a pertinent question in situations where several local administrations, with help from their urban planning advisory councils, tend towards mimicry, and therefore reproduce a style of architecture from the past in a 21st-century environment. Furthermore, it is a question that many architects and urban planners are facing today.

Imitation may allow an object to “disappear” into its environment due to its color, shape, and materials, but such imitation is accompanied by absolute stillness. Moreover, it is a shame to lose a uniform urban layout and an original style of architecture in order to replace it with a collection of sterile, often boring, buildings. But a location can demonstrate architectural excellence through combining the old with the new, and creating a stunning clash of time periods.

However, we sometimes forget to discuss two of the most important elements – historical preservation and the people themselves. A development that succeeds in finding the right balance between all the elements of planning and design can become a well-received specimen of art within a historic urban environment.

In 2012, Elyana Javaheri of This Big City published an article about the modern building’s place in cities classified as cultural heritage sites, and used Toledo, Spain as an example. “Toletvm [toe-lee-tum] is perhaps the most contemporary piece of architecture within the historical urban setting of Toledo. The rectangular structure, tilted roof, and wide windows of the building are very abstract compared to the consecutive but colorful two story homes, castles, and narrow urban alleys of this town. Yet this difference is deliberate. Toletvm was built to provide something new for Toledo, a modern gathering area and welcome center for residents and visitors,” says Javaheri.

A more recent example is the city of Marseille, the European Capital of Culture for 2013. Additions include the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, which has a footbridge leading to Fort Saint-Jean, a 15th-century building. Fort Saint-Jean constitutes a true meeting point between the city and the museum, as well as between history and the building’s contemporary backdrop. 

Fort Saint-Jean and MUCEM in Marseille, France.

Restoration work on the Historic Monument of Fort Saint-Jean has linked the fort to the new museum with a 115 meter-long walkway, and a second footbridge of 70 meters has been put up between the the harbor and the square in front of Saint-Laurent church in the Le Panier neighborhood. In this way, such new works have ensured an urban continuity between the oldest part of the city and the new cultural facilities grouped on the seaside boulevard.

When we see cultural heritage cities succeed in mixing the modern and the ancient without harming heritage sites, we cannot help but inquire about the feasibility of doing the same in a city like Drummondville, where there seems to be two recurring scenarios: either we demolish and replace, or we preserve and are therefore unable to put forward any architectural innovation. Is it that complicated to make old and new coexist on Drummondville’s soil? When will we dare to do it?

If new buildings are to exist in spaces of cultural and historical significance, should they be designed to blend into their environments? Can modern architecture enhance the aesthetic appeal of a historic neighborhood?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Marcus Khoury

Marcus Khoury is a recent graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where he obtained a B.A. in French & Francophone Studies. Aside from his native Michigan, Marcus has lived in several states, in addition to France and Chile. Owing to his experiences with a variety of cultures, languages, and environments, he has always been keenly interested in how the exchange of ideas between different cities, regions, and countries helps to shape both physical and cultural landscapes. His linguistic background, in addition to his interest in the diversity of international urban environments and experiences, has led Marcus to fill the position of French Language Translator at The Grid, where he will be translating and presenting French language material involving environmental design.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 25th, 2013 at 9:46 am and is filed under Architecture, History/Preservation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Reflections on Contemporary Architecture and Drummondville, Quebec, Canada”

  1. John Cruz Says:

    I think in any case, there’s a few things that need to be thought out. Some places are heavy on old style architecture tourism, so modernity that’s mixed in will damage that. People also should be able to shape their communities as well, are they looking for something more modern, or should new buildings be built in the style to compliment the older ones and keep that old charm? There’s a lot of ways the new and the old can be combined, like what they did in Paris with “old” and “new” paris. It may be beneficial to have two different codes for different parts of town, as well as decide how much new technology makes sense to have on historic buildings (for example, should a historic building be allowed to use solar panels or would that destroy the aesthetics).

    As for Drummondville specifically, I think you can get new architecture that adds to character, the problems are in terms of market and costs: it’s going to cost more to make sure builders don’t cut corners and you end up with something different than what was envisioned; it’s going to cost more to design and build interesting buildings, and people have to be able to want to buy them and pay that inflated cost.

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