Who did it better? Montréal vs. Los Angeles

AON Building, Los Angeles Financial District - work of the author, October 2010

The AON Center in downtown LA, a 62-story Modernist office tower design by Charles Luckman and completed in 1973.

Tour de la Bourse, Square Victoria - work of the author, Spring 2009

The Tour de la Bourse on Square Victoria, completed in 1964 and rising 47 floors. It is considered to be a prime example of Internationalist-style modern architecture, and was designed by Nervi and Moretti.

My favourite alleyway

Slate Reflection - work of the author, January 2011

Alleyway south of Boul. de Maisonneuve, leading to the back of Carlos & Pepe’s on Peel Street. Though frequently malodorous due to the subtle mix of urine and rotting vegetables, I’m nonetheless drawn to this space, as its design cleverly seems forbidding at first, yet with the CIBC Building towering overhead, pulls you down into its bowels. And just when the alleyway seems to have sucked you in, it opens up into kind of accidental courtyard with the CIBC Building having tapered away completely.

Behind the Hermes Building

I’ve wanted to film some sort of daring escape in this alleyway since the first time I explored it. Seems very Se7en-esque.

A timely reminder of what Summer is like…

The Eastern Core - work of the author, Summer 2008

Every morning while waiting for the train I try to zen-out while remembering just how unbelievably hot last summer was. Indeed, each year I feel as though Montréalers undergo a fantastic process wherein we collectively experience each season to its fullest. Sometimes I wonder how people can complain about the heat here. I try to get up the Mountain as often as possible to enjoy the seasons in their natural state. In the early Spring, the dampness of the wood sends chills down your spine, while the mist and fog typical of that time of the year hovers gently over the forest floor as moonlight and floodlights cast eerie beams through the forest. In the Summer, it provides a cool refuge from the piercing sun. At night walking along the Olmsted Trail in the middle of January, you hear the soft crunch of the snow underfoot while dormant oak and maple branches knock together above, thuds and clunks composing a hollow rhythm. And during an Indian Summer, the explosion of colour and that last blast of heat stimulate the senses, inviting dreamers to imbibe in sweet dreams.

The idea to protect our mountain as a kind of eco-historical time-capsule has allowed generations of Montr̩alers to experience the local natural environment as it was when Montr̩al was first settled. The fact that you can walk into Mount-Royal Park and quickly find yourself alone, with nothing to hear but the sound of rustling leaves and chirping birds, bathed in sunlight Рit invites you to contemplation. What a gift to give to the residents of the city!

This here is the view of the Eastern-core of the city, taken from the Kondiaronk Belvedere atop Mount-Royal. This spot was so-named to honour the Huron Chief who led 1300 delegates from 39 sovereign nations to Montréal to participate in a massive peace conference. I like how the belvedere is open to all people, all the time, and is without a doubt the most spectacular view of the city and region. From this vantage point all citizens can appreciate the grandeur that springs forth around them. All citizens can stand here and feel triumphant. And thus, the Belvedere is the piece-de-resistance in this ecological time-capsule, as here each citizen can see the landscape Cartier saw back in 1535.

If you approach the Belvedere from the West, that is, if you were coming from Lac-des-Castors, you will see the skyscrapers in the downtown, though they will appear to be much closer than they really are. It’s a bizarre optical illusion. The Mountain offers its citizens many gifts, but must be protected.

Perspective on the City { No. 5 }

Fountain - work of the author, Summer 2009

This is the PNB-Paribas building on McGill College at the corner of Boulevard de Maisonneuve. It, along with almost all the other major developments on this avenue, is the product of a major urban renovation project initiated by the city with Vincent Ponte having worked on some master-plans back when he was designing the multi-level systems of Place Bonaventure and Place Ville-Marie. The avenue was widened into its present form, with a total of six new tall buildings, not to mention the Eaton Centre, constructed between 1976 and 1992, with the majority of construction occurring between 1980 and 1988. This was one of the primary urban redevelopment projects of the late-Drapeau years, and it created an entirely new focal point for the city, not to mention creating an awesome vista and monumental avenue, visually linking the Mountain, the Cross, McGill and Place Ville-Marie.

The re-development of McGill College Avenue itself spawns from two other re-development projects, including the “Place du Centre” development project of the early-mid 1970s. As Drapeau described it, it was Montréal’s ‘second-phase’ of urban renewal, and as we can see here, the sector extending east from McGill College over Boul. de Maisonneuve until about Union was still raw and exposed from when the Métro was carved through in the early 1960s. Hard to imagine this area was, a mere forty years ago, barren, open – yet another open trench on a cityscape that was once badly scarred in the name of urban renewal. I never really knew the city in this respect, but the demolitions and excavations necessary to complete these projects had at one point led to a generally chaotic feel in the city, in addition to a profound awareness of the multi-lateral nature of the city. Moreover, these specific projects would’ve contributed to a far from homogeneous urban fabric, and the removal of these gashes, or should I say there slow erasing, will provide the city with endless make-work projects.

1. The Ville-Marie Expressway divided Montréal’s West End from the ‘city below the hill’ when it was constructed in the late-60’s and early-70’s. Far more divisive than the raised highway further west was the tunnel and open trench system beginning around Rue de la Montagne. Until the early part of the last decade, the open trench cut Beaver Hall Hill off from Square Victoria. The International Quarter, completed between 2000 and 2003, largely addressed this issue.

2. Boul. de Maisonneuve was essentially carved out at the same time the Métro was constructed, as they effectively follow the same trajectory from Place-des-Arts to Atwater. Not only did it connect several different streets, it also created this architectural oddity:

The Drummond Court - so much a hole they put a hole through it

3. The grand-daddy of them all was the open trench from Cathcart to René-Lévesque, atop which Place Ville-Marie was built. For over fifty years city politicians, CN and various real-estate developers argued over what could be done to re-connect this space with the city around it. The end-result: perhaps the defining focal point of our city, and the epicenter of the Underground City.

4. The Decarie Expressway is likely the next main thoroughfare slated for a major renewal effort, as it cuts the West End suburbs from the city core and has made the space through which it passes unfortunately utilitarian. In other words, it could be spruced up, and I for one have always thought a massive linear park would cause area real-estate value to rise significantly.

More on this issue later…

The Mengele of Montréal

This guy is Donald Ewen Cameron, a Scotch-American who, each week from 1957 to 1964, commuted from Vermont to Montréal, where he performed mind-control experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute. Cameron performed his experiments at the behest of the CIA though he also received funding from the federal government, taking otherwise normal people suffering from minor mental health issues, such as depression, and using them as human guinea-pigs. Among other things, the infamous doctor, well-known for his ideas that schizophrenics could be ‘re-programmed’, induced his unsuspecting subjects into comas while playing tapes on loop. Patients were subjected to noise, commands and excessive doses of LSD; when they awoke, they were all permanently disabled.

Allan Memorial Institute - work of the author, Winter 2008

It’s difficult for me to consider this event and not immediately think of the Duplessis Orphans and the insane asylum out in the East End that used to be its own city. Curiously, a few years back some unmarked graves were found at the former Cité de St-Jean-de-Dieu Insane Asylum. I haven’t heard of any follow-up to the demand that autopsies be performed, but the allegation is that Duplessis Orphans may have been used for medical experimentation as well.

When you consider the context of the Quiet Revolution, remember the Duplessis Orphans and Ewen Cameron as examples of what crimes can be committed against a people held in bondage by the collusion of the Roman Catholic Church and an autocratic political regime. Have those responsible actually paid for their crimes? Will we ever finalize the break and seek to resuscitate our efforts at achieving true individual sovereignty for the people of Québec? I think the CIA, the Fed, the Province and the Church still owe us a lot of money for what they’ve subjected our people to. And I still want answers to this.