Save Griffintown!

Projet Griffintown: New Design, New Funding by ajkandy
August 29, 2008, 11:23 am
Filed under: griffintown

After the summer news lull comes news from Devimco. First, they’re adopting a new funding model and have found some new partners to provide more cash equity upfront, reflecting the current instability in the global economy, and to insulate the project from a potential recession. The City of Montreal has given them extensions to get this funding guarantee at least twice, and apparently they intend to renew their options on the properties they’ve purchased.

On the design front, they’ve been working with American-born architect Eric R. Kuhne and his London-based firm CivicArts on the architectural design for Project Griffintown. And the first released image looks like this:

 New, "Futuristic" design for Griffintown by Eric R. Kuhne.

I’m not sure what to think about this. It’s a single rendering, but at this distance, the buildings look awfully like generic office-park, reflective-glass, cookie-cutter affairs. And check out those big angular hotel towers! Shades of The Fountainhead (movie version) mixed in with Things To Come.

That said, the firm has done tons of work in Kuwait and Dubai, as well as new-ish “towne centre” lifestyle retail developments across the UK. They seem able to work in multiple modes; their One New Change project in London is actually quite admirable. 

The CivicArts website says their philosophy is a high-minded “Marketplace of Ideas,” which to me sounds like “Shopping is Good,” especially when you read the accompanying blurb:

“Cities have always been marketplaces for commodities, goods, services and faiths, but in this passionate appeal to contemporary society, Kuhne believes that none of these truly reveres the power of civic life. Hoping to restore the story-tellng quality of architecture and cities, Kuhne weaves a collection of stories into a compelling philosophy of creating great civic spaces. Trade is what brings life to cities, Kuhne analyses the responsibilty that contemporary society has in redeeming the vitality of cities and towns. Using examples of his work on four continents, Kuhne illustrates the way retail can become the new dimension of how experience takes precedent over architecture, and the way that we can use retail to bring back the pageantry of civic life to cities and towns.”

I’d have preferred they make at least more than a passing mention of sustainability, walkability, and transit-centric design, but their essential point is correct; urban neighborhoods are villages animated by retail Main Streets.

The problem, of course, is how to create meaningful places from scratch. A lot of the best work is done by infill, where fine-grained scale permits incremental evolution; Projet Griffintown still aims to erase one of the oldest street grids in North America. There’s also a question of architectural style; how timeless is this going to be? How well are these buildings going to age? Can any of these buildings be upgraded or re-adapted to other uses?

The crucial issues of green space, sightlines to the Mountain and increased car traffic on Peel Street still need to be addressed. 

I’m going to reserve judgment until I can see more of the planned street levels and individual building designs, but I still have my doubts.