I feel this story might have slipped under the radar.
The guy who designed the Big O has a counter-proposal to the Fed’s Champlain Bridge Redux project.
Noted 88 year-old French architect Roger Taillibert says his design looks better, is better designed, will cost less and can be completed in less time than what’s currently being planned.
The Tory plan is estimated to cost anywhere between 3 and 5 billion dollars and is currently slated to open at the end of 2018 (fifty months from now).
Taillibert says his plan would cost $1.7 billion and can be completed in 39 months. Main difference: use of pre-fabricated steel supporting structures in lieu of the seventy or so concrete columns currently featured in Poul Ove Jensen’s design.
Now before I get going, an issue to address.
Taillibert designed the Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Village and a variety of other structures at the Olympic Park, including the pool and the velodrome, which today houses the Biodome.
All the problems related to the Big O are principally issues relating to its construction, not its design.
The substitution of building materials by crooked contractors and the numerous delays had nothing to do with the architect, and everything to do with the construction companies, several of which were run by individuals who had political connections to former mayor Jean Drapeau.
So before anyone jumps up on the soapbox to unilaterally dismiss anything proposed by Taillibert, remember that his designs aren’t the problem, it’s how they were built and by whom (and what corners the builders cut).
Also worth noting: all the buildings he designed here are still in use, and that’s significant in and of itself. Most Olympic structures end up slowly rotting away as they seldom have any post-game use.
We’re lucky because we’ve gotten 40 years of service from our Olympic installations.
Taillibert has additional criticisms to volley at the appointed Danish architect (remember – there was no design competition); namely that the proposal is aesthetically lacking while being needlessly complex – in sum it seems over designed. He points to the concrete pylons and the use of three physically separated roadways instead of a suspension bridge design supporting a single large roadway. Taillibert’s design conforms to the Fed’s requirement that the bridge support at least six vehicular traffic lanes and two lanes for public transit (with the eventual implementation of light rail), but does so in a more straightforward (and in my opinion practical) fashion.
For a comparison of the two designs, side by side, check this out.
What makes Taillibert’s design intriguing is that, for an architect so closely associated with the use of concrete, his proposal instead uses steel, which he considers superior to concrete in terms of long-term survivability. In essence, he describes his design as being both practical, with an eye to minimizing maintenance, and more worthy of Montreal and the bridge’s namesake – the multiple suspension towers and their cables more evocative of the ship Champlain sailed on.
Consider that the current Champlain Bridge was built with steel-reinforced concrete which eroded due to road salt and a lack of vehicular deck drainage system; over the years corrosive slurry infiltrated the concrete and ate away at the steel cables within.
The response to Taillibert’s proposal have ranged from outright refusal on the part of the federal infrastructure ministry to scepticism from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre. The Fed’s position is that the bridge project is already moving along, that they’re sticking with the architects they’ve already chosen and are about to announce which of three consortia will actually build the bridge.
Here’s where things get interesting: both SNC-Lavalin and Dessau are bidding to build the bridge, and both these firms are either currently or have recently been investigated for corrupt practices.
It should be noted that the winning consortium is “expected to operate the structures (meaning the new bridge and some of its connected roadways, including the federal portion of Highway 15) for thirty years”.
I’m not well-versed in legalese, but I would assume this means that the winning firm will get the maintenance contract, locked-in, for whatever bridge they end up building (and yes I checked the preliminary report – that’s precisely what it means). The Fed also states that the winning consortium will have some leeway in terms of the final design and the materials to be used.
But it was this sentence that made me do a double take:
“Given the long operating period under the responsibility of the private partner, the client may allow it to deviate from traditional methods and introduce technological innovations at its own risk.”
The concrete used for the original bridge was supposed to have been a ‘technologically innovative’ type of concrete that ultimately failed.
I don’t how comfortable I am knowing the winning consortia would be encouraged to take risks to maximize profitability.
Isn’t this the whole problem with construction of government projects in this province in the first place?
Perhaps Mayor Coderre has a point about Roger Taillibert – why didn’t he make his proposal sooner?
The lack of a formal design competition, for one. Provencher Roy and Poul Ove Jensen were selected and it’s not entirely clear how the Fed came to make its choice. Mr. Jensen principally designs bridges, and has some 200 designs to his name. Provencher Roy is a well-known architectural firm based in Montreal with a long list of various projects, including a lot of institutional spaces and rehabilitated spaces (such as the new Canadian arts pavilion at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Montreal World Trade Centre and the renovation of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel).
Though these are logical choices, an open design competition never occurred, and therefore the proposed bridge seems like it’s little more than a rendering based on the preliminary study, albeit with one major defect.
Clearly Mr. Taillibert did his homework. One of the more curious points he brought up in the interview he did with Radio-Canada is that because his design features fewer (far fewer) support columns, which he says would lessen the environmental impact.
Initially I thought this was little more than mere greenwashing – it’s always a good idea to tout the ecological merit of your project, regardless of how dubious those claims may be, simply because people like hearing ‘green’ buzzwords. Frankly, it’s usually about as far as we go.
But the preliminary proposal actually spends a great deal of time pointing out issues pertaining to environmental and cultural impact. I didn’t realize it, but there’s a Mohawk burial site located on Nun’s Island that needs to be considered separately, and a fair bit of text focuses on minimizing damage to the river’s underwater ecosystem.
Fewer supporting columns means less disturbance to what lies beneath, so it makes the Fed’s choice to go with seventy supporting columns a bit of a head scratcher, especially given how much time was spent by the consultants focused on ensuring the new bridge design would do as little environmental damage as possible.
I’ll close by saying this: this is the most important bridge in the entire country. It’s both the busiest crossing and the one pulling in the most revenue from cross border trade. It’s vital to the interests of Montrealers.
And yet, despite this, the only kind of appeal to the public has come somewhat as a back-handed compliment. We were told by Denis Lebel that ‘maybe the bridge could be named after Maurice Richard’ in what I can only imagine was a Tory effort to make nice with Les Habitants and maybe score a few votes here in 2015. That said, the idea to name the bridge after Maurice Richard left many Montrealers and Quebecers wondering how anyone in Ottawa could possibly elevate a mere hockey player to be on a equal footing with the man who started the colony of New France, arguably setting the sequence that lead to our creation as a nation in motion.
The Richard family said they were not at all in favour and then the issue was dropped.
And then, as though to prove just how utterly useless the provincial government actually is, the PQ and CAQ managed to get the National Assembly to agree (without debate) that the new bridge should be named after Samuel de Champlain. An affirmation after the fact (it was decided yesterday).
Provincial transport minister Robert Poeti made the point that the motion would be pointless given the bridge is under federal jurisdiction.
Ultimately, they’ll also make the all, unilaterally, on naming the bridge.
From what I’ve been told, if we’re really well behaved they might let us drive on it.
More to come on this issue, doubtless.