Infrastructure Can Be Beautiful, Like This Power Plant in Montreal

power plant in evening

Steve Montpetit via v2com

In Europe, they hire Bjarke to design incinerators. In North America, power plants and waste treatment facilities are designed by engineers and they are often intimidating, ugly, and surrounded by barbed wire fences.

Generators behind glass

Steve Monpetit via v2com

Then there is Montreal, which is not like most North American cities, and where Les Architectes FABG wrap three 1.5 megawatt emergency generators in glass and limestone. They gave it the attention it needed in such a prime location in the middle of McGill University. According to the release on v2com:

"The project was developed as part of a multidisciplinary integrated design exercise combining historical research, architecture, engineering, landscape, and urban acoustics to formulate a sensitive response to a problem that cannot be limited to utilitarian considerations."
looking up at box

Steve Montpetit via v2com

Indeed. So to go beyond those utilitarian conditions, they built a glass pavilion on a limestone podium with a gazebo under a roof extension. "The roofs are vegetated due to the low height of the building which exposes these surfaces to the view all over the south flank of Mount Royal and from surrounding buildings. " Reading between the lines, it sounds like it was a struggle;

"The project focuses on the underlying presence of the mountain by dramatizing the topography of the site. Although it is a technical infrastructure, we insisted on treating the building as a pavilion that could help enhance the quality and specificity of the McGill University campus."
Glass box on base

Steve Montpetit via v2com

McGill University has a dramatic site on the side of Mount Royal, and there is a lot of topography to dramatize. They fill a lot of the base with storage:

"Storage and maintenance spaces for campus furniture and outdoor amenities are laid out at the foot of the slope and the limestone-clad main wall becomes parallel to the rest of the campus. A mature Elm is preserved at the foot of the staircase, which extends the existing sidewalks to University Street to enrich the network of pedestrian traffic that is being consolidated throughout McGill."
Site beside road

Steve Montpetit via v2com

Many years ago we complained about the terrible pedestrian infrastructure at McGill and the fact that they banned bikes. There still appear to be a lot of multi-lane roads running through the campus; no doubt it could still use more pedestrian and bike enrichment. The technical and logistical problems of dealing with all the different levels, angles, pathways and stairs are significant:

"The generators are installed in a glass pavilion sitting on a granite baseboard at Dr. Penfield Street level while there is storage space for campus street furniture on the lower level. The interstitial space between these two volumes serves as a plenum for air, steam, and electricity connected to the Ferrier power station. An open staircase opens a new passage along the east-west axis to connect the top and bottom of the campus."
view from street in evening

Steve Montpetit via v2com

Anywhere else in North America, they would have dug a big hole in the mountain and covered it in concrete. Instead, Eric Gauthier and Marc Paradis of Les Architectes FABG have made infrastructure beautiful.

Looking down at roof with landcape

Steve Montpetit via V2com