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IMAGO is the winning entry of the City of Montreal’s two-phase competition entitled ‘Vivre le chantier Sainte-Cath!’. St. Catherine Street, an important commercial artery in downtown Montreal is undergoing a four-year infrastructure improvement plan along several blocks, including underground infrastructure upgrades, incorporation of new public transit systems and increasing pedestrian sidewalk area and access. The project seeks to ameliorate the streetscape’s overall appeal, improve its functioning and promote economic growth over the long term.
During the construction different segments of the street will be closed to car traffic, however pedestrian traffic and access to all stores will remain functioning. It is inevitable that this period of transformation will have an impact on people’s daily routine and the operation of the city.
The competition therefore seeks creative solutions to minimize the negative impacts of an on-going construction site. The competitors were asked to address the following: change the users’ perception of the work, create an innovative urban experience within the work site, direct the flow of people, reduce disruptions associated with the work, disseminate information regarding the work and its progress and finally, inform users of future developments.
Inspired by a theme of natural sciences and the transformation of an organism from its embryonic state to its final stage, imago, the project proposes a series of temporary biomorphic inflatable structures to shelter, protect, animate, articulate and live the construction site of Sainte-Cath. Through its scale, fluid form and aesthetic purity, IMAGO unfolds with great contrast to its urban environment and the repair work below or beside. IMAGO offers a strong and bold visual identity to reinforce St. Catherine Street’s iconic status in Montreal and beyond.
The intervention consists of a series of modular catenary arches, each composed of an inflatable structure anchored to an approved concrete construction fence. IMAGO adapts to the construction site in several ways depending on the work being performed. When roadway work is occurring, IMAGO spans overtop of the construction site, bringing light and ventilation to the construction site, and guiding pedestrians as they move through the site. When work is being performed along the sidewalks, IMAGO shelters and accompanies pedestrians who now occupy the street, animating their journey through the site or to the different businesses via bridges that overlook the repair work below.
The street becomes an immersive environment that can become a gathering point for ephemeral events. Each arch is hinged at the top to allow lateral movement to overlap the work; moving wider when the work is occurring along the street, and narrower when the work is occurring along sidewalks. In all scenarios IMAGO becomes the interface between pedestrians and the construction site.
IMAGO’s light, yet robust design is inspired by the physiology of a butterfly wing; many delicate intermediary members create a strong, yet flexible structure. The diagonal members create diamond voids, some of which are filled with historic images that narrate the evolution of St. Catherine Street and the constant transformation of the city across different epochs. Each historical image is demarcated by a blue filter that remains transparent; the street beyond can still be deciphered chronicling the past and present simultaneously. Where there are no images, the voids create natural ventilation through IMAGO.
The simplicity and modularity of the installation offers a flexibility and versatility both in terms of its sprawling, caterpillar-like nature and ability to adapt to different site conditions. The modules are erected gradually by attaching one to another growing until IMAGO covers the extent of the work being performed. The modularity of IMAGO makes each component affordable; the number of units can be easily multiplied based on the budget. Since the main material is air, the modules can be handled easily and stored in a fraction of their original volume.
IMAGO offers a poetic and versatile strategy in response to the numerous challenges of a construction site. It is a graceful intervention, a distinct insertion that offers users the delicateness of nature in the city. The intervention possesses a great potential to be used as an identity tool, communication tool, operational tool, and experiential tool to re-imagine the construction site.
Location: Montreal, Canada
Client: City of Montreal
Structural Engineers: Blackwell
Civil Engineering: Alta Construction
Branding: Bruce Mau Design
Lighting Consultant: Lightfactor
Team of experts on Montreal History: Paul-André Linteau, Susan Bronson, Gabrielle Mathieu