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de GaspĂŠ

ARCH 520 a corridor study looking at how it came to be where it is now and where it is going

Foreword Debbie So produced this study for the ARCH 520 final assignment. All participants agreed to have the contents of their interviews and memory maps published in this assignment. The corridor study was completed December 14th, 2009.


04 05 06 08 16 19 20 30 38

Contextual map Purpose of study Current site map Site study History of place Cross section Sense of place Discussion Bibliography


De Gaspe corridor (2009). Note: Copyright Google Maps, 2009.

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De Gaspe Corridor



Purpose of Study In the reaches of the Mile End, nestled within the fabric of tightly packed triplexes is an aberration: a towering corridor of industrial buildings. Once a bustling centre for Montreal’s textile and garment industry, this cluster of industrial buildings now appears abandoned and derelict. Eight-story buildings made of pre-cast concrete and abandoned warehouses covered in graffiti line the wide road and crumbling sidewalks. But despite these first impressions, the variety of activities that actually occupy the space and the City of Montreal’s interest in redevelopment makes the de Gaspé corridor worthy of a closer examination. No longer the economic hub of garment manufacturing it was in the 1960’s, the de Gaspé corridor has evolved into the backdrop for a range of economic, social, and community activities. Attracted by the reduced rents, the cultural cluster of residents in the Mile End (Germain and Radice, 2006), easy access to transit routes, and the popularity of its surrounding neighborhoods, hundreds of people now live and work in this district. (CDEC, 2008) However, the City of Montreal’s proposed “revitalization” has threatened to radically alter the area, as the $8.8 million “St. Viateur Est” project draws closer. The project is part of Montreal 2025, a long-term proposal which encompasses a number of small- to large-scale projects intended to modernize the city. Although the city of Montreal can only control government-owned land, potential changes to the fabric, such as widening sidewalks, adding streetlamps, or creating new paths for transit, all have the same intention – to increase capital. As such, in the greater context of the Mile End, which has been gentrifying rapidly for years, the St. Viateur Est project is certain to disrupt the current imageability and appropriation of space. In an atmosphere of citywide dissatisfaction over the city’s handling of major projects, such as renovation of the Main and the redevelopment of Griffintown (DeWolf, 2008), the de Gaspé corridor will help illustrate the problems and prospects for Montreal’s next attempt at urban revitalization. The study will pose three questions – how the corridor came to be, how to account for certain changes over time, and how efforts of formal revitalization will be perceived. Although there was a wide range of material relevant to these topics, concept pieces were chosen based on their particular manifestation in this case study.


de gaspe corridor 6


De Gaspe corridor (2009). Note: Copyright Google Maps, 2009.

The corridor in question runs along Avenue de GaspĂŠ, bound by Rue Bernard to the north, and Rue Maguire to the south. It is 500m in length and 300m in width, containing the main cluster of industrial-type buildings, as well as greenspace behind the buildings on the northeastern side of the corridor.


SIte Study The de Gaspé corridor will first be described in its present state in morphological terms, including how it contrasts with the base tissue of the nearby residential blocks. Close attention will be paid to block size, building type and scale, aspect ratio, and materials. This information can be inferred from primary observation and current maps. As such, the empirical documentation will be based on Roberts, M. (2001) “Area Analysis” in M. Roberts & C. Greed (Eds.), Approaching urban design: the design process. Roberts (2001) provides the tools and language required for a typomorphological analysis, allowing for the proper classification of elements in the landscape to be linked to larger ideas later on. He briefly describes the significance of certain features, including formal and informal spaces, fronts and backs, and building types that will be useful to the present analysis of the district. ‘ However, Roberts (2001) also stresses the use of typomorphological analysis to reveal changes over time and patterns in use of space. This is an analysis that will be more useful later on in discussing how the district evolved to its present state, rather than describing at a single point in time.


Northeast Corner

North-Norhteast Corner


South View (from St. Viateur)

South View (towards Maguire)

Surrouding typology & fabric


NE corner – Standing above St. Viateur on d GaspÊ, facing Bernard to the north, we see our first set of industrial buildings. The white, glazed-brick building is the tallest at 8 stories, and although the corridor is heavily shaded, the white building reflects a considerable amount of light to brighten the NE corner. The wide roads swallow the thin sidewalks; an aspect ratio intended to accommodate the volume of trucks passing through.


N-NE corner – Closer to the northern site boundary below Bernard there is a dilapidated concrete block structure covered in graffiti. Local youth and artists have appropriated the expanses of hard, concrete surfaces to create a social and cultural space. Newer graffiti pieces, makeshift skateboard ramps, and well-worn paths to the greenspace behind the buildings indicate the area is in frequent use.


Greenspace – Behind the buildings on the eastern side of the corridor there is an expanse of greenspace. The area consists of a large, empty field bordered by the buildings and a row of trees and shrubs. Although the field is empty at the moment, worn-down dirt paths and the remains of a bonfire indicate that the space is one of both assembly and movement.


S view (from St. Viateur) – Standing at St. Viateur facing south towards Maguire, we experience the canyon-like depths of the corridor. To the right there is another white, glazed-brick building, but unlike the other white building, parts have been painted deep red and less light enters this section of the corridor. Instead, the dominant typology is these twin, twelve-story concrete megastructures. Their design is much simpler and economical, showing little attention for aesthetics.


S view (from Maguire) – At the southern site boundary at Maguire and de GaspÊ, we see less industrial activity and a new retirement condo on the southeast corner. The condo is the same height as the surrounding buildings, but it is still surprising to see the sudden shift to modern design and materials at the border of these 60’s megastructures.


Surrounding typology/fabric – Venturing outside the corridor, we observe that the surrounding district is almost entirely composed of triplexes and duplexes. The brick and stone buildings house a mix of residential and commercial uses, displaying more attention to the front-face aesthetics of buildings. Thus the streets are animated with people and activities, exhibiting the warmth and culture of a tightly-knit artistic community.


HisTORY of Place Since we have a clear picture of the corridor at present, we can discuss how these current morphological characteristics came to be in terms of their historical context. Documentation of building footprints over time and previous interventions of investment will be invaluable, but insight will also be provided from literature describing the history of Montréal and the rise of the garment district. The purpose of studying the historical context of place is to explain why the industrial buildings district was built where it was. Documentation of building footprints were provided by a series of insurance maps from the Cartes et Plans collection of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ). Further insight was provided by a personal interview with Mile End historian, Susan Bronson. Bronson, architect and historian, has been studying the Mile End district for over 20 years. She participates regularly in community groups dedicated to reimagining the space and contributed information founded on her own research, which has not yet been published.


Late 1800’s Mile End was originally part of the Village of Saint-Louis du Mile End, a streetcar suburb whose growth coincided with the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) station.

Boroughs (1890). Note: Copyright Goad (Atlas of Montreal) 1890.

Early 1900’s The land that the de Gaspé corridor occupies today was originally a train yard for the CPR. The CPR bought the land in 1906, and used the space to sort out cars and serve the different industries in the neighborhood. The town of Saint-Louis was annexed by the expanding city of Montreal in 1910. After annexation population growth was explosive . By 1911, the surrounding ward had over 37,000 residents. (Ackerman, 2006)

Ville St.Louis (1910). Note: Copyright Goad (Atlas of Montreal) 1910.

1920’s - 30’s During the 20’s and 30’s, the surrounding district was being filled up with triplexes to accommodate rapid population growth. The CPR continued to use the land for a train yard and industrial purposes.

Laurier Ward (1939). Note: Copyright IUS (1939).


1940’s - 50’s In the decades leading up to the garment district, other industries were beginning to cluster on the West side of de Gaspé. Near the railway line was the former Mile End station, at the time used for industrial purposes. Several piano manufacturers located there, as well as the Mount Royal Paint and Varnish Company factory, now a private school.

1960’s - 70’s In the 1960’s the Jewish community acquired the CPR land, given that the train yard was moving elsewhere and this large chunk of real estate was availible and cheap. The Jewish community, many of whom were successful clothing manufacturers, built the megastructures over an 8-year period (1962-1973). (Bronson, personal communication, December 7, 2009) This explains how a cluster of towering industrial buildings was able to appear all at once in the basic fabric of triplexes.

St. Viateur Est (1955). Note: Copyright IUS (1955).

The garment industry was always one of Montreal’s main industries, and during the postwar period it was booming. The megastructures were built as quickly and cheaply as possible to accommodate the surplus of immigrant labor. The short construction period explains why the building typology of the area is so similar and characteristic of 60’s modern architecture. As well, the economical and functional intent of the megastructures explains the austere aesthetics and widespread use of concrete, a cheap and quick construction material. 18

1980’s - present The garment district was strong through the 80’s and early 90’s. It began its decline during the late 90’s when tariff restraints were lifted on importing from China. After that, it was cheaper to manufacture overseas and companies relocated the bulk of their production. Since then building owners have made very little to no investment in the declining industry. Today, the buildings are approaching 50 years old, and everything is showing signs of age. Even though the concrete envelopes of the buildings are still functional; the windows, elevators, and HVAC systems are in need of maintenance. Some interiors have been renovated as artist lofts or offices for tech companies nearby (Ubisoft, on St. Laurent and St. Viateur), but it estimated that over 40% of the district remains dedicated to garment manufacturing. (CDEC, 2008)

Cross Section The cross section of the corridor in the context of the Mile End shows the shocking change in height of the specialized tissue compared ot the base fabric. The cross section of the corridor up close displays the aspect ratio of the wide road to thin sidewalk, as well as the towering nature of the megastructures.


SEnse of Place Aside from morphological characteristics, we can frame the corridor’s transformation in terms of the changing “sense of place”. Sense of place refers to a feeling or perception that people attach to a geographic place – usually, what makes that place special and unique for them. Given that the corridor has been appropriated for a range of economic, social, community, cultural, and movement purposes, these uses will be reflected in people’s sense of place. De Gaspé’s sense of place will be collected and analyzed with the use of mental maps. Based on Lynch, K. (1960) “City Form” in The image of the city, mental maps are a mental representation of what a place contains and its layout according to the individual. The aim of using mental maps is to decipher what elements of the urban environment make a place special or unique to an individual, thus elucidating their sense of place. A sample of six mental maps was collected betweeen November to December 2009 from people who frequently interacted with the de Gaspé corridor. The concept of mental mapping lends itself well to this study because it enables individuals to isolate memorable features of the area, and to describe their use of the space. Mental maps can be compared between individuals using Lynch’s five elements: paths, landmarks, edges, districts, and nodes. Although the subjectivity of mental mapping can lend itself to error, we will do our best to infer peoples’ sense of place.


Film Stills from American Portraits: Kevin Lynch (2009). Note: Copyright Evan Mather.


Debbie So, 21. Debbie is a BCOM and Architecture student at McGill University. She is studying the de Gaspe corridor for a school project. 22

Boris, 54. Boris has been the proprietor of “Jeans Jeans Jeans� for 35 years, a clothing store in the de Gaspe corridor. 23

Graham Van Pelt, 26. Graham is a musician with a studio in one of the buildings. 24

Julien Ceccaldi, 22. Julien works for local art and musical festival, Pop Montreal, whose headquarters are located in the one of the buildings. 25

Susan Bronson, 52. Susan is a freelance architect and hertiage consultant in Montreal. She is also the founder of citizen group, “Mile End Memories�. 26

Marke Ambard. Marke is the co-founder of “Imagine Mile End�, a citizen group dedicated to reimagining and revitalizing the St. Viateur sector. 27

Lynch’s 5 elements:

Districts are medium-to-large elements of a city which the observer walks into and which may have an identifyable set of characteristics.

As expected, each person remembers the de Gaspé corridor a little differently than the next. Some maps are filled to the edge with ideas for reimagining the space, while others display an honest simplicity of no more than a few lines. The most common characteristics amongst the maps are the districts and edges. Nearly everyone uses the label “industrial” to describe the area, and identifies the edges of the district using the existing road network. A few people chose to include the train tracks as a northern edge, or perhaps as a landmark. The differences lie in the nodes, paths, and landmarks. These characteristics define what makes the de Gaspé corridor unique and memorable to an individual, the elements which inform their sense of place. In fact, we can group similar patterns of nodes, paths and landmarks into two distinct senses of place: FUNCTIONAL vs. POTENTIAL. For those who access the corridor with a functional intent, the corridor is laid out in its present state like a treasure map, guiding the creator to their preferred use of the space. For those who access the corridor out of curiosity, their sense of place is defined by reimaging the space for its potential uses. Debbie illustrates the greenspace and bonfire pit behind the buildings, shown by the dotted line (path) leading to the labeled pit (node). Few other landmarks and nodes are identified, suggesting that her sense of place is defined by a function of assemblage and social interaction.

Edges are linear elements not used or thought of as routes. Edges may take the form of intensely busy roads, railway lines, cuttings, and canals.


Landmarks are usually a defined simple physical object, such as a church spire, a tower, a dome, or a hill. They are not entered but serve as a point of reference.

Paths are routes through which the observer moves, e.g. roads, footpaths, railways and walkways.

Graham, Julien, and Boris all own or rent workspaces inside the de Gaspé buildings. Graham and Julien’s maps share a number of landmarks, mostly along St. Viateur and the eastern side of de Gaspé. This suggests that they both follow the same path along St. Viateur (path) to their respective studios (node). They both also include the bonfire pit (node), suggesting that along with using the space as a place of work, it is also one of social interaction. On the other hand, Boris’ map chooses to include nothing other than his own store, Jeans Jeans Jeans (node). Even though Boris has worked the longest in this district, he explains that, “I never noticed the buildings, it was always the vibrancy of the people rather than the architecture”. (Boris, personal communication, December 7, 2009) We can hypothesize that the emptiness of his depiction reflects the decline of the garment industry over the past decade. For those that do not occupy the space but have been drawn to it out of curiosity, their maps differ from the ones defined by functionality because they envision the future of the space. Looking at which areas Marke and Susan chose to detail, we can infer that Marke is more involved with the greenspace and northeastern side of the corridor, while Susan cares more about the street front along de Gaspé. Their senses of place are defined by their desire to actualize the potential of the space for environmental and community projects.

A node is a point to or from which an observer might be travelling and provides an event on the journey. Unlike the landmark, it must be entered.

(Lynch, 1960)


Discussion We conclude with a discussion on the future of the de Gaspé corridor. By commenting on key processes of transformation that have manifested themselves in the past and the agency of stakeholders in the future, we can imagine challenges the corridor will face and offer design strategies to obviate them. Our discussion will be based on Kelbaugh D.S. (2007 [2002]). Critical regionalism: an architecture of place. Critical regionalism is “critical” in two senses: first, it is a critique of the universalizing intentions of international modernism, and second, it is a critique of the sentimentalizing practices of regional culture in themselves. It is a movement that alerts us to the homogenizing and often placeless nature of modernity, while attempting to reinforce a contemporary and phenomenologically-based authenticity – one that is more representative of places and local constraints. (Kelbaugh, 2007) It does so by valorizing place qualities, ecology, local histories, regional craft traditions, and boundaries – qualities that Kelbaugh (2007) argues lead to better-scaled and more responsive design strategies. Given the de Gaspé corridor’s unique location in the midst of a very involved, dense, and rapidly gentrifying community, there is an underlying tension between the respect for local needs and the natural movement of capital. Our intention is to follow Kelbaugh (2007) and offer design strategies that respect the existing sense of place of the corridor and not external capital interests, unlike the Griffintown and the Main projects, both of which incurred much public dissatisfaction. However, critical regionalism is not without its faults. In valorizing local traditions, we must be careful not act too resistive to change or act out of saccharine sentimentality. As well, we must offer pragmatic design strategies. Our solutions must be feasible in relation to the availability of capital and participation of necessary stakeholders. Finally, we must acknowledge design strategies that are already in place, namely the St. Viateur Est project.


Les Champs des Possibles (2009). Note: Copyright Imagine Mile End, 2009.


Processes of Transformation “It’s a space that piques your curiosity, and you want to know why it is the way it is. Why are there these massive twelve-story buildings, these big huge boxes, in the middle of these two and three story buildings? Where did they come from?” - Susan Bronson (Bronson, personal communication, December 7, 2009) The morphology of the de Gaspé corridor was formed out of unique circumstances. How a series of industrial megastructures managed to find their way into the residential fabric of the Mile End and what it is today can be explained through four key phenomena: the railway, the 1960’s garment industry, the globalization of capital, and gentrification. Previously addressed in “History of Place”, we revisit these phenomena to identify the processes of transformation in the de Gaspé corridor. Originally the CPR acquired the land because of its size, availability, and proximity to the railway. The lot was classified for industrial uses because the CPR needed a large, open space to sort its cars. Hence because of cheap property markets and access to existing transportation lines, the land was transformed into an industrial lot and maintained that way while the surrounding area began to fill with duplexes and triplexes. The second major phenomenon was the construction of the megastructures for the garment industry in the 1960’s. At that time the garment industry was booming and the Jewish community, many of whom were garment manufacturers, needed a large industrial space to take advantage of the influx of cheap, immigrant labour. When the CPR put the land up for sale, it was a good opportunity because industry was moving north. The lot was already classified for industrial use, and it was inexpensive. Unlike typical industrial districts, which are either separated from residential spaces or precede the development of low-income housing, the de Gaspé garment district was built in the middle of an existing residential fabric As well, because a single community bought the land, they had the aggregate wealth to build the entire set of megastructures in a short period of time. This explains the gross similarities in building typology, function, and date of construction. Thus cheap property and abundant labor markets, a boom in the garment industry, and the availability of capital drove the second major transformation.


The third major phenomenon was the globalization of capital in the 1990’s. The lift on tariff restrictions gave the garment industry access to the larger, and more inexpensive employment basins in China. Investment drained from the Montreal garment district and it has never been able to recover since. This manifested itself in the demographics of the district, particularly the decline of garment-related labor, and in the declining maintenance of the physical structures. Since then the depression in rent has attracted tech companies and artists from the surrounding area to appropriate empty space. Finally, it’s no secret that in recent years, the Mile End has become one of the new hot spots in Montreal’s booming residential property market. The combination of a strong housing market, robust economy, and the popularity of the quartier have created a real estate boom, the first since the neighborhood was created in a frenzy of construction just over 100 years ago. (Real estate’s booming, 2007) Vacant lots and new construction are rare because of the existing density of the neighborhood. In this light, the de Gaspé industrial district represents a space for potential redevelopment and profit. However, the rising prices of rent and rates of home ownership are endangering the demographic composition of the surrounding neighborhood, putting the multicultural character, low-income labor, young people, and artists at most risk. (Real estate’s booming, 2007) As the ones who created the popularity of the quartier and are currently using the de Gaspé corridor, there is a demand for respecting local needs and a resistance to expropriation. Challenges Herein lies the challenge that defines the future of the corridor. Previous processes of transformation manifested themselves to provide a large, industrial space in the middle of the residential fabric. Current processes of transformation, mainly gentrification, have created a high demand for this space. How the underlying tension between a respect for local needs and the potential for capital gains plays out will be the next process of transformation that defines the corridor. We’ve defined the stakeholders as: those who use space in the corridor, whether they pay rent or do not; the owners of the buildings; the potential investors; and the city of Montreal. By addressing the agency of each group and how they will interact, we can hypothesize potential challenges and offer design strategies. Those who currently use the space are divided based on the necessity to pay rent. As previously discussed in “Sense of Place”, those who need to pay rent consider the corridor primarily as a functional environment, whereas




those who interact with the corridor out of curiosity consider it a space of potential. It is the ones who need to pay rent that will be most affected by gentrification. Workers in the garment district and artists agree – the best thing for them would be if the area were kept affordable. As local musician Graham Van Pelt described, “I don’t want to see this neighborhood gentrify and see my rent get hiked up a lot.” (Graham Van Pelt, personal communication, December 3 2009) Van Pelt previously had a studio in the Griffintown district, where he was threatened with eviction by the Griffintown project. Some artist groups have taken a proactive stance, attempting to collectively buy property or negotiate long-term contracts with owners to keep costs down. Those who interact with the space out of curiosity applaud these efforts because they represent opportunities for transformation that respect and preserve the character of the district. These proactive groups, whether they pay rent or not, are for the revitalization and beautification of the area if it’s in service to the people who are already using it. But, as Boris warned, “the people who have ideas like these are the ones who have the least ability to pay the rent.” (Boris, personal communication, December 7 2009) Originally attracted by the low rent of the district, those who pay rent do not have the financial capability to buy property or commit to large-scale maintenance. Those who envision an environmentally-, socially-, or community-conscious potential also do not have access to capital. Their agency lies in their ability to act collectively, mobilize public support, and participate in decisionmaking processes with those who do have access to capital. The groups who can directly influence large-scale changes are the owners of the buildings, the investors, and the city of Montreal. The owners have made very little to no investment in the buildings over the years. In some cases, they are entirely absent. Will they want to sell the buildings at a low price to get rid of them? Are they still connected to the community? Or will they sell to the highest bidder? Given their low level of involvement, it would be surprising to expect a response favoring local needs. We presume that the majority will sell for the highest profit. Drawing from the Griffintown and the Main redevelopment projects, investors are also likely not to respond to local needs, favouring instead a higher capital return. It will be challenging to convince them to respect the current sense of place.


Finally there is the City of Montreal. The city has already slated the area for redevelopment as part of the Montreal 2025 project. The city poses a challenge because although they are technically responsible to the needs of the people, the actual decision-making process is slow and exclusionary. Solutions Based on critical regionalism, we must approach the development of the corridor with a prioritization for local needs to provide better-scaled and more responsive design strategies. If possible, we strive to strike a balance between the desire to maintain low rent prices while actualizing the environmental, artistic, and social potential of the corridor. By prioritizing the sense of place of the corridor we are preserving and fostering the cultural capital that created the demand for this district in the first place. As Marke Ambard noted, “roads and condos don’t represent a creative city, creative spaces do”. (Marke Ambard, personal communication, November 30 2009) Thus, while maintaining the current sense of place may not result in the most profit today, it is an investment in the cultural capital that is central to the property markets of tomorrow. Our second strategic approach should be to act on a humble basis. Buildings and cities, like plants and animals, can be viewed as vital rather than inert and denatured. They can be treated as organisms which are conceived, grow, flex, adapt, interact, age, die and decay – always rooted in their habitat. (Kelbaugh, 2007) By finding the lost space, adapting the existing infrastructure, and respecting a sense of limits, we can use small-scale infill to reinvent the space without overwhelming the current sense of place. Third, design strategies should respect the role and natural limitations of the environment. Planners, architects, designers, and the community can fulfill an ecological role, namely to protect and preserve ecosystems, natural cycles and chains, and the symbiosis between organisms and their environment. (Kelbaugh, 2007) Finally, for these design strategies to be realized, stakeholders who value critical regionalism must involve themselves in the decision-making and design process. By forming a collective voice and being proactive, critical regionalism can cooperate with those who do have the means of capital to actualize real changes. The Mile End community is unique because its citizens are highly active and have been aware and preparing for future processes of transformation. It is hopeful that their efforts can create a future that respects the needs of the community and not capital interests from beyond.


BIbliography Ackerman, M. (2006). A century in this house, The Gazette. Retrived from CDEC. (2007) Secteur St. Viateur Est, Evaluation du potential economique et immobilier, Elaboration de la strategie de developpement. DeWolf, C. (2008). Mile End looks East, Montreal Mirror. Retrived from http:// Germain, A. and Radice, M. (2006). Cosmopolitan by Default: Public Sociability in Montréal. New York: Routeledge. Kelbaugh, D.S. (2007 [2002]). Critical regionalism: an architecture of place. In M. Larice & E. Macdonald (Eds.), The urban design reader (pp. 183 - 193). London and New York: Routledge pp. 169 Lynch, K. (1960). City form (Ch.4). In The image of the city (pp. 90-117). Cambridge MA: MIT Press. pp. 225 Real estate’s booming - after 100 years. (2007). The Gazette. Retrived from Roberts, M. (2001). Area analysis. In M. Roberst & C. Greed (Eds.), Approaching urban design: the design process (pp. 57-73). Harlow (England): Longman/ Pearson Eduation Rose, D. (2004). “Discourses and experiences of social mix in gentrifying neighborhoods: A Montreal case study.” Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Vol 13, pp. 100


SpEcial thanks to Boris Graham Van Pelt Heather Braiden Julien Ceccaldi Marke Ambard Nik Luca Susan Bronson

De Gaspe  

Corridor study of De Gaspe, Montreal QC

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