Location : Pointe St-CharlesClient : Collectif 7 à NousPreliminary concept : Poddubiuk architecteStructural engineer : EGP Inc.Mechanical / electrical engineer : Martin Roy associésConstruction manager : Groupe TEQ
7 À NOUS – a collective of citizens and social economy organizations – has fought for years to convert Bâtiment 7 (CN Building number 7) into a gathering space for the underserviced Pointe St Charles community. An alternative and accessible place, it is almost a small city – planned with workshops, community services, artists’ studios, a pub and restaurant, a general store, a market, a daycare and even a birthing center. Stewarded by architect and UQAM professor Mark Poddubiuk for the past ten years, Bâtiment 7 is destined to become a driving community force, and will transform the neighbourhood from the first day it opens in summer 2017. Inspired by this holistic vision, we engaged with the local community in their participatory design process!
Social innovation and a return to re-use
The Bâtiment 7 is one of our newest projects, although it has one of the oldest project numbers on our books. It is a project driven by a deeply committed client group, intent on transforming their community with a new and accessible social infrastructure. Inspired by a holistic vision that includes social, economic, cultural, political, and ecological objectives, Bâtiment 7 is an exciting project that seeks to transform the neighbourhood through innovative and synergistic programming. It is an ambitious renovation and re-purposing of one of the old CN yard storage buildings. The complex is to be developed in phases, and a key challenge was to establish a loose-fit approach that would permit programming to change over time, AND that would permit environmental upgrades over time. We are working on the base building fit-out of the first phase that will include a general store, a café-brew pub, collaborative craft and artist studios, and a series of workshops including a bicycle repair shop and tool library. In addition, the project will also include an outdoor public square, community gardens, and a blue-green pedestrian lane. All phases are being designed via a participative process that we call co-design – only possible with a very committed and involved client. Phases 2, 3 and 4 will be centred on developing family and health services, a community food hub and a contemporary art studios and workshops.
Bâtiment 7 is a historic, abandoned warehouse – originally built between 1924 and 1946 by CN (Canadian National Railway Company) – situated in a brownfield in the Pointe St-Charles neighbourhood of southwest Montreal. Pointe St-Charles is a generally working class neighbourhood, large sections of which currently lack grocery stores, cultural services, cafés, and gathering spaces. As a community-driven project that combines the arts, health, local food production and sustainability, Bâtiment 7 is aligned with some key municipal policies and objectives, such as fighting poverty and exclusion, promoting social economy initiatives, developing the local food production sector and supporting collective infrastructure.
The Bâtiment 7 project has been in the works for over a decade. A local community organization obtained the building for $1 as part of a zoning change agreement to develop 800 new housing units on a site south of the Bâtiment 7 brownfield. This organization – named 7 À NOUS – further negotiated an additional $1 million donation in 2012 to begin renovations of the building – a huge victory for the community! A very involved citizen-led process ensued. Mark Poddubiuk (one of our co-founders!) spear-headed the project in 2009, and continued to lead the community effort while a professor at UQAM from 2012 onward. We became involved in earnest with some urgent repairs to the abandoned warehouse in 2016. The building had suffered 10 years without any heat or maintenance. In late December 2016, with the patchwork nearly complete, PADIQH funding was granted and the renovation project started without warning, and with a financing-enforced 6 month deadline to substantial completion.
The Integrated Design Process: the challenge of combining speed and flexibility
A decade is a long time, and the participative process in play up to December’s funding was slow. Going from a virtual process standstill to a decision-making sprint is a significant challenge for an organization that relies on consensus. We decided to begin with two all-stakeholder charrettes, the second of which included the newly hired construction manager. Most importantly, the client voluntarily focused its participation in four members, each of whom brought clear roles to the charrette work. Similarly, we assigned clear subject and process roles to senior members of the architectural team, permitting focused and pertinent content capture during the charrettes that could be immediately turned into propelling actions. Most importantly for this project, one of these roles was capture of the loose-fit, long-term vision. While we encourage the community to define its needs and desires for the project specifically, we know that keeping planning and design open for multiple possible futures is the key to this project’s long-term success. Content capture by experienced personnel familiar with the dynamics of integrated group work is necessary when balancing defined current needs and undefined future needs.
Environmental Systems, Transferability and Risk
The budget is a challenge, and requires a return to the basics – good windows, airtightness, heat-recovery on ventilation air, storm-water capture, clear spatial typology, and detailing that permits sustainable evolution without expensive re-work. More importantly, a tight budget requires a robust risk-response. This client is typical of the most vulnerable and cost-sensitive clients we have, and removing risk from their projects is in our DNA. The most financially sensitive cannot suffer risk or be exposed to capital cost overruns that create delay or cancellation. They cannot be given buildings that promise performance but fail to deliver. In an environment of limited resources, nobody can suffer this. It is fashionable to call this a ‘risk management’ approach. For us, risk is not an option, and is not to be ‘managed’. We work to remove risk. There is no hedging – and we will bring this de-risking, results-focus to the Bâtiment 7 project for 7 À NOUS and the Pointe St-Charles community. Aside from getting the basics right, this is perhaps the most transferable sustainability feature of the project.