Heritage doyenne Phyllis Lambert weighs in on Maison Alcan and criticizes lack of city planning
Mayor Denis Coderre’s approach to dealing with development projects is “willy nilly” and is sending Montreal back to an era when a lack of planning and a disregard for heritage and consultation reigned, says architect and urban planning activist Phyllis Lambert.
Riled by Mayor Denis Coderre’s defence of a plan by a developer to gut part of the Maison Alcan complex on Sherbrooke St. W. to erect a 30-storey office tower, the mayor’s recent pronouncement in favour of large-scale residential construction on natural space in Pierrefonds and plans to raise the permitted height of high-rises in such disparate places as the Gay Village, Lambert says it’s a throwback to the era of Jean Drapeau, when a strong-willed mayor determined what projects got the green light.
“We’re back to the ’80s,” Lambert, the founder of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and doyenne of the preservation movement in Montreal, said in an interview after returning home from abroad last week.
“That’s shocking, the fact that there are so many controversial projects coming up these days. And this is not the end of it, I’m afraid.”
Lambert said she’s in favour of densifying the city, but said it needs to be planned through a transparent public process as was set up by Jean Doré, who succeeded Drapeau, and his reformist Montreal Citizens’ Movement.
“One has to establish the character of the city and plan it,” Lambert said.
“It can’t be just willy-nilly. It’s obviously that when you say there’s to be some development here and a highrise there. That’s not thought through. That’s not a plan. Willy-nilly sounds too nice for it.”
Lambert, who founded Heritage Montreal in 1979, is also adding her voice to the opposition that has formed against the redevelopment plan for Maison Alcan. The project is proposed by Yale Properties Ltd. and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté’s real-estate company and is supported by the Ville-Marie borough council.
“You don’t do things like that,” Lambert said. “The whole process has gone back to ‘I like, I don’t like’ and to some strong person’s will rather than to a real study of how one can densify the city.”
The project, which could get final approval from the borough as early as Sept. 9, would wreck a complex that was lauded when it opened in 1983 for integrating older architecture with new construction, Lambert said.
Maison Alcan was a model for later projects that successfully integrated old and new construction, such as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Quartier International, she said.
“That’s not the place to build another highrise,” Lambert said of Sherbrooke W., part of the Golden Square Mile, which still boasts some of the mansions of Montreal’s 19th century elite, at the base of Mount Royal.
The existing heights over Sherbrooke should be left as they are, she said, while René-Lévesque Blvd. W. in the same core section of downtown is the “perfect place for all of those high-rises.”