Franciscan Commemorative Park by

2024 Public Projects / Canada / Built in 2023 /

Located in Montréal’s Grands Jardins District, the Franciscan Commemorative Park is part of a string of green spaces planned to keep alive the memory of the large estates that made up the area prior to 20th-century urbanization. The green corridor is now complete, and it extends from Cabot Square, along Atwater Avenue, all the way to the Franciscan Commemorative Park and Esplanade Ernest-Cormier, the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s public garden. The park stands on a site formerly, and partly occupied by a neo-Gothic chapel, which the Franciscan Order erected at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, the whole estate was destroyed by fire in 2010.

The park design is an attempt to go beyond conventional commemorative landscape strategies. After the fire, the site was razed and cleared. The absence of physical ruins paved the way for a more intangible evocation of the site’s history, one based on archival material. Old photographs of the chapel’s interiors revealed a beautiful rib-vaulted ceiling, fine cross-shaped columns, and delicate rosettes at the junction of the columns and the ceiling.

The concept derived from a mirror image of the ceiling’s rib vault and rosettes, generating a unique pattern made of diagonals and points. Transferred to paved surfaces, the geometry takes on an abstract dimension, subtly blurring the historical reference. Rich planted beds were added to the unusual composition.

A bronze bell, the only remnant recovered from the lost chapel, guards the park’s entrance, a few metres away from a lone and preserved tree. The path and commemorative areas, slightly raised from the lawn, are held in place by Corten plates, which help define the park’s shapes and contours. A few public benches are introduced along the path, but one can also sit along the raised edge that encircles the preserved tree. Corten circles filled with small pebbles delicately recall the columns’ rosettes throughout the memorial surface.

The Franciscan Commemorative Park resulted from an agreement between a major Montreal developer and one of the City’s main boroughs. After the erection of two residential towers, the park was built by the developer and later handed over to the borough in a somewhat atypical process, but one which provided the opportunity to experiment with a unique, expressive landscape, at the edge of municipal norms.

Provision had to be made for an emergency corridor that would service the real estate project, should the need arise. A diagonal strip, which cuts through the commemorative area, was introduced within the park design. Fire trucks can exit the narrow site in front of the two towers through an opening in the park and then along the reinforced paved area leading to René-Lévesque Boulevard.

The materials chosen for the park are simple and well adapted to Montréal’s climate: concrete pavers, Corten steel, and pebbles. Pavers were selected for their strength and their resistance to Montreal’s extreme temperatures, as well as for their ability to withstand cutting. Corten steel, which has grown into an essential material for landscape architects and urban designers, is used here for the park’s low retaining walls. It also serves to define the presence of the ‘rosettes’ and retain the pebbles in place.
The park, which is not connected to the municipal sewer infrastructure, is designed to absorb rainwater corresponding to a 20-year rainfall event, which is the norm. This is made possible by the presence of bioswales introduced all along the site perimeter and additional, underground conduits. The densely planted areas located throughout the park feature flood-resistant species.

While demonstrating responsible water management, this small urban landscape adds a touch of poetry to the neighbourhood, celebrating history and contemporary design. The unexpected, subtle evocation of the Franciscans’ former chapel is an invitation to reflect on the beauty of past religious estates and on the values dear to Francis of Assisi, who founded the order in the early 13th century. Accordingly, not only does the park cater to its immediate neighbours in search of a peaceful green space but it is also a haven for those less fortunate individuals looking for a bench where they can rest for a while.

Architecture offices involved in the design:
FNX-INNOV (Electrical Engineers), Vinci consultants (Civil Engineers)

2040 René-Lévesque Blvd W
H3H 2T8, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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