Les Habitations St-Ambroise

Project Data

Location : Montreal, Quebec
Client : 3100-6075 Québec Inc
Area : 7800 sq.ft.
Structural engineer : Jan Vrana
General contractor : Emile Sadaka
Completed in : 01/1996
Prizes and mentions : OAQ Excellency Prize, special mention, 1996.

The dwellings

You can only see a small part of the ambitious program these dwellings have to show, particularly in what concerns the materials and systems found there. The site purchase was carried out via the municipal program “Opération Habiter Montreal” which was selling lots at a low cost with a condition of building within two years following the date of purchase. In addition to their participation as architects, Pearl Poddubiuk also acted as developers, promoters, site managers and even customers. Showing a beginning of modernism image, it reveals a certain connection/ratio for volumes, mass and the details which express the subdivision of space.

Les Habitations St-Ambroise is a four unit housing project built on a vacant lot in St-Henri, a traditional working class neighbourhood in Montréal. The site is located at the south end of a triangular block with street frontage on three sides facing the Atwater Market to the east, the Lachine Canal to the south and a residential street to the west.

This project forms part of our ongoing pre-occupation with urban housing previously explored in a variety of theoretical, academic and otherwise aborted projects. Working in tandem with the developers, we initiated the conception of the project, arranged the financing, prepared the design, supervised the construction, marketed and sold the units.

The conception of the project is largely based upon a process of ‘hybridization’ resulting from the reconciliation of conflicting circumstances. The hybrid arises out of a process of design that addresses three areas of concern – the urban project (physical circumstances), the domestic environment (market impulses) and the sustainability of residential construction (economic, technical and environmental objectives).

Urban Project

The project is at once ‘fabric’ – a complementary part of the surrounding residential context of St-Henri – and ‘figure’ – a freestanding object marking the corner of both the block and the neighbourhood, responding to the public nature of the surrounding urban landscape of Atwater Market and the Lachine Canal. This hybrid condition of ‘figure/fabric’ is expressed architecturally in the two distinct orientations present in the plan. Taken literally from the triangular form of the block and then translated into the reflection of a broader urban condition, each geometry corresponds to a pair of units that share common programmes and architectural characteristics – spatial, sectional, elevational and organizational strategies. The hybrid is expressed in the singular expression of materials for the whole as well as a common approach to details and fenestration.

Domestic Environment

We were anxious to realize a unit type that provided the greatest possible autonomy and flexibility for the individual resident’s lifestyle within a dense urban environment. Each unit is intended to give the impression of a freestanding house. This autonomy is expressed in the individuality and remoteness of each of the entrances as well as the emphasis on corner windows and corner balconies, giving a broad perspective out of the unit to the urban landscape. The conception of the individual units is based upon a vertical organization of the domestic programme that is similar for each of the paired units. Living and sleeping spaces are organized on separate levels. In one case, the living spaces are above to take advantage of the view and stairs are isolated in order to maintain the privacy of the sleeping spaces. In the other, the living spaces are located below to benefit from a ground relationship and the stair becomes a freestanding screen delimiting spaces.

Sustainability of Residential Construction

 The project is built to above average standards for energy efficiency. Given the air tightness of such construction, particular attention has been paid to three areas of concern. First of all, off-gassing of toxic contaminants to the interior of the units has been reduced or eliminated by a careful selection and specification of building and finishing materials. Secondly, fresh air is supplied and stale air exhausted through the use of a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). The system introduces fresh air pre-heated through a solarwall panel (during heating season) integrated into the courtyard elevation and through a second cooler inlet (during summer months). The fresh air is then dehumidified when necessary, mixed with recirculated air, filtered and then introduced to the living spaces. Finally, metal sun blockers have been used to control solar heat gain at certain windows. Large glazed surfaces opening toward particular views oriented east and north have been justified by the proximity of high efficiency cereal burning stoves.