Montréal’s Griffintown: Whats good for this place?

My love for the city of Montréal and my desire to settle down there in the coming years made me observe the real estate market. While researching some neighborhoods, it strokes me that some of them have been literally overrun due to a high demand for apartments and thus, any possibility to construct new buildings or to convert old industrial buildings into condominiums was taken. That’s quite an understandable process, as the demand for living space is great in the constantly growing metropolis of Montréal.

In one of those districts, I stumbled upon a historic building that grabbed my attention. It wasn’t for me to live in, but a well-maintained property from 1894 built in Queen Anne style with rich ornamentation. A building one would say is beautiful. The owner, Paul, who has been taking care of his building for the last 30 years, told me that the population in the area had grown explosively in the last years with the result that one block of flats was built next to the other.  He mentioned that his property includes a building plot – in case I had some new ideas in my mind. I did not, but I asked myself: What would one build there? What is missing here? What could make this district a better place? What would be good for the neighborhood? Another block of flats? Certainly, this would have worked out perfectly when speaking only the language of economics – but wouldn’t it just be another one-dimensional repetition of what had suspended the surroundings of their vitality and their history? Another block which would transform them into functionally fulfilling residential units with no soul?

“The outer world that man creates reflects his inner world”

This wisdom, I thought, unveils the underlying one-dimensionality of the human world view which limits the construction of newly emerging living spaces to their function and to the fulfillment of economic goals. So where could I make a difference? In my view, creating living spaces is a great responsibility, because they’re effective on people.

In all eras of human existence, buildings and squares have always been a mirror of the respective cultures, and they have been deeply interwoven with cultural, religious, artistic, and spiritual values and qualities. The beauty of buildings and places alike is a result of the multidimensionality and consciousness of their architects and builders. They are manifestations of human creativity. The Piazza San Marco in Venice, by way of example, is a reflection of holistic squares where urban social and cultural life takes place for hundreds of years. 

The answer to the question of what I would build is rooted in my desire to initiate and create projects which affect the multidimensionality in people and, at best, contributes to raising people’s awareness of themselves and of their environment. Human development as well as community, identity and cultural wealth do not arise from rules or guidelines. They arise from possibilities. Something I felt would be good for this place. Hence, the site behind Paul’s building holds the chance to develop multi-layered possibilities for this place and its people. 

With my team, I have thought about this a bit more in detail and the results of the process turned into our Hyperion project. Inspired by the design of a timber high-rise by our partners Studio Precht from Austria that offers a vertical garden to each residential unit, we challenged what was missing in this highly dense district for a community to thrive. Beyond a residential timber high-rise, we saw the need for a public courtyard that offers a protected outside area for residents and neighbors alike. A European building block was the answer. 

Now, when we think of examples of highly attractive places in cities, by way of example the Hackeschen Höfe in Berlin, it becomes apparent, that the mixed-use structure reflects a variety of human interests and daily activities. This means that artist workshops, a theater and a cinema are as much as important for an attractive place as shops, flats, offices, and restaurants. But these are not all ingredients of the secrete sauce of attractive places. It’s the architecture and the design of the buildings and places, that have a huge influence on success or failure. And when speaking of architecture, I am referring to the before mentioned multidimensionality of design that creates a positive resonance in people. Something, we can measure today. In this sense, we reached out to a leading academic expert in urban development, Biophilia and human-centered design, Prof. Nikos Salingaros, and started to discuss how the artificial build environment affects human health. Moreover, looking at topics such as pattern language, introduced by the architect Christopher Alexander, we understood that we need to pay high attention to the fact how we integrate a new building into its surrounding. How we create a multitude of connecting dots, reasons for people to go to this place, and possibilities for tenants and the surrounding neighborhood to make this new building their place. It became clear that this project turned into a rather long shot, but the impact and potential it carries inspires us to walk the extra mile. We are excited to have gathered twenty different partners from a diverse background of expertise to take on the challenge and design a building that is attractive to users, responsible to our environment and can be build and replicated at industry-appropriate costs and risks in other cities as well. 

Admittedly, developing our Hyperion project is no small undertaking, but something we can imagine can contribute to the positive development of highly dense city districts in many places as it offers many possibilities to the local people and visitors alike. This project is profound and needs many shoulders to bear it and become reality. The Hyperion project is a chance to enhance local communities because it is not only functional but goes far beyond that: it touches people’s multi-layered intelligence and enriches their inner and outer worlds. While discussing with Prof. Salingaros, among other things, the concept of fractals, which are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales, we thought about community building. Fractals are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos. Geometrically, they exist in between our familiar dimensions. Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals. For instance: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc.

Coming back to community building: don’t communities emerge from an ever-increasing number of people? Our understanding of the development of our Hyperion project is that community arises from the multiplicity of the One, future from our deeds of today and possibilities from a common vision for the collective good of all. 

So, what’s good for this and other places?