As the density of the contemporary city increases, so the spaces between buildings assume an increasingly important role in fostering a sense of identity and a quality of life for the urban dweller. One of Montreal’s oldest public spaces, Place d’Armes is the first square in the city to achieve the intensity of peripheral activity necessary to support the type of minimal public space one finds in historic European cities. A space that is free of objects and open to appropriation – a space of imagination.
The minimalism of an Italian piazza is directly related to the intensity of activity on its periphery. As a neutral surface, the piazza allows the pageant of life to play out in all its complexity: the movement of people, the congestion of vehicles, the sound of voices, the cacophony of signs, the calm of monuments.
This proposal for a revitalised Place d’Armes gives form to the idea of a space of imagination by unrolling a carpet to the limits of the buildings surrounding the square. Communicative and tactile, this surface reveals history, suggests the future, and re-establishes in one gesture the human scale of the user and the territorial scale of the landscape.
Like objects left under a carpet, three elements, each witness to specific historic eras, reaffirm their physical presence and symbolic importance. The foundations of Montreal’s first church are extruded to create a prestigious drop-off for Notre-Dame Cathedral; Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, father of Montreal, maintains his monumental position overseeing the city he founded; and the entry to abandoned underground washrooms offers the promise of new uses for these forgotten spaces. Placed on the carpet like pieces of furniture are a series of objects of our time – organic street furniture, bollards, trees, and lamps.
Above all a gesture of openness and inclusion, the project posits generosity as the basis of civic life and the principal function of public space. Produced during an international workshop organized by the City of Montreal as part of its activities as a UNESCO City of Design, the results of the workshop were used to develop design criteria for the restoration of Place d’Armes.