Just as layers of history accumulate through time to offer varying perspectives on culture and environment, Saucier + Perrotte’s design for the Fifth Pavilion of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is composed of a series of mineral strata that form a home for the Hornstein collection of art. Floating gently above street level, each marble stratum is superimposed to produce a sculpted volume containing the collection and defining a space dedicated to the next generation of Montreal art lovers.
Through the use of white marble with gray veins, the project’s tectonic and materiality harmonizes with the existing pavilions of the Museum. The very simple geometric composition of the new project elegantly punctuates the urban space of the museum campus, announcing its presence on Bishop Street, and offering cues for anticipated future phases of the Museum.
The use of marble captures the essence of the project — an architecture that metaphorically interprets the stone and its geological presence within the urban context. The well-known physical properties of marble — its opalescence, smooth and rough qualities — have been beautifully highlighted throughout history. The design of the new pavilion juxtaposes the stone’s qualities of reflectivity, polished smoothness, and translucency with that of glass, synthesizing the two into a marble-like object in the urban fabric that — one that is seemingly composed of a single material — of matter that is polished on each of its surfaces to reveal different.
A dynamic, gray interior volume functions as both architecture and way-finding, allowing access to the large gallery spaces and indicating the vertical circulation route through the building. This monumental stair extends the entire height of the building as a scenographic path of curated vistas toward the city and sky. Elevated connections toward the existing Demarais Pavilion are generous spaces for informal exhibition, vernissages, and additional school group gathering.
On the site — below the floating volume of marble — is a deep imprint of the form suspended above. Accessible from the street, this space serves as the public zone of the building as well as housing the children’s educational programs. Raising the exhibition area / workshop space from the ground level reveals this triangular space, which appears to be suspended between the galleries above and the level below. This zone serves as a welcome area / dynamic public space along the street. An inclined, glazed surface directs light and views toward the lower level whose sculptural bleachers serve as seating for student groups and a forecourt for the cafe/cafeteria. An interactive screen enables formal presentations and also animates the space from the point of view of passersby.
The idea of raw, creative energy is the core of the entire project, much like the fire from deep within the earth’s core that has for millennia shaped and moulded metamorphic rock — in this case the marble that defines the building. The traces of amber light descending into the building and its children’s learning space recalls these notions of creation.
The building’s facades differentiate the various states of matter. The white, vertically veined marble on the Bishop Street facade gives an impression of geological stratification. The north and south facades are clad with opaque white-gray coloured glass panels. The opalescent glass facade in the interstice between the Desmarais pavilion and the new wing acts as a vertical skylight that suggests an object that is both opaque and translucent gray depending on the time of day. This light well also is used to illuminate the adjacent galleries.
Lead Design Architect – Gilles Saucier
Engineering – Guy Nordenson and Associates
Project description – Museum and educational facilities
Status of project – Design competition entry, Finalist