As Europe was in full swing of reconstruction after WWII, Andre Blouin was shaping his style working in the atelier of August Perret in Paris. Passionate disciple of modernist principles, in 1952, he established himself in Montreal, a city whose image he would create. Montreal architect of the French Pavilion (the current Casino of Montreal), he was actively involved with the planning committee for Expo 67. In this capacity, he promoted and conceived in its entirety the Place of Nations, which garnered him the Prize of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Participating in the greatest public and institutional projects of his time, he received the medal of honor from the Quebec Order of Architects in 1990. In the footsteps of Andre Blouin is where we find our modern heritage in question. There is also the ferment of the 1960s, which we experience with the affirmation of an architectural freedom that will influence Montreal’s design in a lasting manner.
The Church of Notre-Dame d’Anjou: A Dialogue with Le Corbusier
As soon as Le Corbusier designed Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp (in France), the totality of international architecture came under its influence. A break with traditional architecture happened, giving rise to new forms, new materials and a distinct design. “The Mirror of Europe” because of its references to modern architecture, Quebec intended to adopt “an architecture of international grandeur.” Drawing inspiration from Le Corbusier, Andre Blouin thus reinterprets religious architecture, but also affirms a modern style for Quebec.
For example, Notre-Dame d’Anjou is shaped like a snail, which is an unusual zoomorphic reference. Designed according to the rule of golden proportions, the church in the shape of a spiral presents a new volumetric design, as well as a reconfigured spatial layout.
The similarities between Le Corbusier’s building and Blouin’s emerge in the architectural partitions, but also in more precise elements, such as the tiled pavement of the square. There are also the openings, the nod to Le Corbusier being obvious. One of them stands out in the Notre-Dame d’Anjou church, in the form of a candlelabra with original stained glass. The differences between Notre-Dame d’Anjou and Notre-Dame du Haut demonstrate the process of the particularization of international style with an affirmation of a modern design distinctive to Montreal.
We should also point out that beyond just having designed the Church of Notre-Dame d’Anjou, Andre Blouin also completed the plans for the hall of Padre Pio, of the Reparation Chapel (in Pointe-aux-Trembles), another site of modern religious architecture in Quebec. A joint heritage designation (with the Church of Notre-Dame d’Anjou) would allow for greater awareness of these buildings, which have made their mark on the culture of Quebec.
The Square of Nations: Figurehead of Expo 67
The idea behind it was a “people’s square,” “a great figurehead representing Canada welcoming other nations.” Serving as a greeting space for official, cultural and folk demonstrations of the Worlds Fair of 1967, this point of assembly presents itself as a modern space, reinterpreting classic amphitheaters. The concept was one of a rectilinear square surrounded by pedestrian bridges and pyramidal terraces. The layout of the concrete follies offers a brilliant architectural synthesis between a stadium, a public square and a pre-Columbian temple.
Abandoned for many years, the Square of Nations is in ruins, and only a little while ago brought up as an endangered heritage site by Heritage Montreal. In addition, the recent announcement of a massive investment with Montreal’s 375th anniversary in sight allows us to catch a glimpse toward the site’s conservation. The architectural integrity of places nevertheless poses many questions because of the degradation of many structural components, such as the beams made of compressed wooden laminates and the concrete terraces.
The French Pavilion: A Landmark of French Integration in Montreal
Jean Faugeron, based in Paris, is the architect and principal designer of the French Pavilion at Expo 67, the current Casino of Montreal. Andre Blouin, a Frenchman who became a Canadian citizen, was the associate architect for the application of the local Building Code and plans of the architectural design. The French Pavilion had the biggest floor area (2,415 sq meters) of the pavilions of Expo 67. Today, it is still a first-rate Montreal landmark.
The Desjardins Complex: Offering Montreal a Solid Centre-City
Andre Blouin participated in the group that came up with the Desjardins Complex. Its inclusion in the urban fabric is radical, with the transformation of a huge parcel. The interface with the street fails in this project, which was shown as being turned in on itself.
The Selection of the Site for the Radio Canada Headquarters: Demolishing to Modernize
It is one of the first projects in which Andre Blouin participated in Quebec, and it is one of the most important scars in the urban fabric of Montreal. Andre Blouin was not the designer of the final project for the construction of the headquarters for Radio Canada, but he participated in the study suggesting to target the A M’Lasse neighborhood for the vast demolition operation.
Considered a slum zone at the time, a huge parcel was demolished, which translated into the expropriation of 5,000 residents and the demolition of a lot of blue-collar housing. We also find the mark of modernism in an approach that prioritizes the tabula rasa, a difficult legacy to carry with us, but one we must also remember.
Confederation Plaza: The Reason for Burying the Ville-Marie Highway?
Andre Blouin proposed a vast restoration project, which would not be completed, allowing for a better link between the center-city and the river: Confederation Plaza, “a vast esplanade punctuated by buildings that descend from the train station toward the river and the Cite du Havre.”
A structural project, allowing for vast public spaces and better links from Montreal’s center-city to the Saint Lawrence River, this project is the precursor to the project for burying the Ville-Marie Highway, recently launched by the City of Montreal.
If the 1960s deeply changed Quebec, Andre Blouin was one of the major architects of the architectural and planning revival of the period. The affirmation of the modern style in which he participated lead to the production of new forms and gave shape to the urban landscape of Montreal. Nevertheless, these modern constructions are faced with changes in use (Montreal Casino), a lack of upkeep (Square of Nations), and with multiple alterations (such as the antennas installed on top of Notre-Dame d’Anjou). The establishment of the legacy of modern architecture in Montreal is just beginning, raising the question of its own cultural significance. It also raises the question of conservation, interpretation, and development of these places. Aware that here we are only offering a partial insight into Andre Blouin’s career, above all, we wanted to call up the memory of a first-rate urban designer, shining a light on his legacy. If the Square of Nations sought to welcome the world on the “people’s plaza,” in what way are we going to celebrate such a welcoming design?
What is the legacy of modern architecture in your city?
Original article, originally published in French, can be found here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.