"Please read – and don’t ask me
why architects wear black!"
"Why is it really that architects wear black?" was a question put to Cordula Rau by an automotive industry manager during an architectural competition. Even though she herself is an architect, and wears black, she did not have an answer on the spot. So she decided to ask other architects, as well as artists and designers. She has been collecting their handwritten replies in a notebook since 2001.
In 2008, this collection of autographs appeared as a small publication – obviously bound in black. For the purpose of the new edition, this legendary collection was expanded by new notable, amusing, pragmatic, and quirky reasons: "Please read – and don’t ask me why architects wear black!". (Cordula Rau)
How a Fresh Generation of Montreal Architects Is Painting the Town Moody, Modern Black
by Matthew Hague in Sharpmagazine
Montreal architect Natalie Dionne has experienced the change first-hand — and is thrilled. She has been an architect since 1992, but is now completing her most interesting projects yet, including a series of bold updates to pre-war homes that mimic the proportions of the brick originals with the appendage of dark black boxes.
Black in a residential project can be risky — too sombre and dour for many to live with on a daily basis. Dionne’s renos, though, are more re-energizing than they are ominous. A simple noir canopy over the back deck of a Westmount remodel, for example, adds a graphic edge, made warmer by a soffit of cedar slats. A similar tack is taken inside, where black and white kitchen cabinetry intermixes with luxurious, beautifully veined walnut. Rather than being overly austere, the black seems to vivify the design. One of Dionne’s principal architects, Martin Laneuville, originally pursued a career as a prop and set designer after graduating from architecture school in the ’90s. A decade ago, he felt inspired to return to his original vocation. “Clients used to be a lot more conservative,” says Laneuville. “They weren’t necessarily open to contemporary ideas. A lot has evolved in the last decade.”
It’s an idea that Dionne seconds: “The architectural knowledge of the population has grown,” she says. “And thank God! Clients are allowing us to be much more audacious.” The audacity is equally evident in her urban and rural projects. A retreat she designed in the Laurentians looks like a charcoal-coloured teeter-totter, with the main living volume precariously cantilevered out from the crest of a hilltop. It takes a lot of confidence (not to mention engineering) to attempt a move like that, but when successful, it proves rewarding: not only does the space under the house leave room for a covered carport, but the living room above gains a unique vantage point in the trees.
Confidence is also something that defines La Shed, one of Montreal’s most successful (and youngest) firms. The studio was started in 2011 by three friends — Yannick Laurin, Renée Mailhot, and Sébastien Parent — who met while studying at the Université de Montréal a few years earlier. Most architects don’t start their own practices until well into their careers, after years of training under more experienced designers and waiting for the first, all-important client. But as twentysomethings, Laurin, Mailhot and Parent took a leap of faith. Without a patron, they pooled some money, bought a typical downtown duplex — the kind with exterior wrought-iron stairs and little to distinguish it from its neighbours — and converted it into an ultra-modern home, where cool white tones offset strong black accents. Not only did the result sell for a profit, giving the team seed money to quit their day jobs, but it garnered the press attention that helped them build a client base. They are so popular these days that prospective clients often have to wait a year or more before a project can commence.
Crucially, La Shed’s daring didn’t stop at the way they founded their business. They consistently push the limits of their design aesthetic — for which they are always winning awards. In addition to the RAIC Emerging Practice Award, they were also given the Canada Council’s Ronald J. Thom Award for Early Design Achievement in 2018, another high honour. Recently the Quebec architecture association gave them a design excellence award for one of their homes by La Fontaine Park, in the city’s east end — praising the way it both blends with the surrounding 19th-century mansions and elevates contemporary architecture. A curving staircase makes a statement in the middle of the house, while herringbone floors evoke Victorian-era salons. But much like the anachronistic costumes in The Favourite, all of the geometries are pared down, simplified, and made fresh in a purely black and white palette. One of the most opulent features of the place is the wine cellar — a status symbol through the ages. But La Shed has reimagined the space by encasing it in milky, back-lit glass. The shadows of bottles pop out of the celestial glow at anyone walking by — apparitions of happy nights to come.
La Shed is a small firm — about a dozen designers. But even larger studios are taking big risks. Architecture49 has offices across the country, and typically does big institutional and corporate work — schools, hospitals, offices. Recently, though, the Montreal offshoot finished the new club and driving range for a golf club on Nuns’ Island, just west of Montreal. On approach, the sleek black structure appears to hover just above the grass, a bit like a spacecraft floating in mid-air. Closer up, it’s clear that the effect is created by a heavy timber structure, all in pale blond maple, that seems to disappear into the natural surroundings. It’s hard not to feel like you’re standing in a cool, futuristic vision while putting a ball on a tee.
The only thing cooler might be the expansive views of Montreal’s skyline in the distance. It’s the kind of immensity that’s inspiring. With the myriad skyscrapers mixed with old Cathedral domes and quirky walk-up duplexes, it’s clear that so much great architecture has happened there, but there’s also still so much to come.
La maison noire à Saint-Placide - Pierre Thibeault architecte
Fascination pour le noir
Au commencement, le parement extérieur devait être en bois de couleur naturelle. Mais la découverte de maisons ancestrales noires lors d’un voyage en Islande m’avait envoutée… Au moment de choisir la couleur du lambris de bois préteint en usine, Marco et moi avons alors osé le noir opaque. « Qu’est-ce que Pierre pensera de notre choix? » s’était-on demandé. « J’adore l’idée! » nous avait répondu Pierre qui, du même coup, nous avait appris qu’au Japon, l’une des méthodes primitives de construction consistait à calciner des planches de cèdre. Ainsi, elles devenaient noires et, surtout, étanches et résistantes à la pourriture.
The new black in Quebec
One of the reasons that architects in Quebec decided to go with black was to demarcate the house from the dominating white presence of the winter snow, to – as it was – get out of its shadow.
Louisiana Channel has released a video interview conducted with world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, where he advises young architects to follow their dreams, take risks, and expose themselves to the possibilities of short term sacrifice for long term gain. Reflecting on the pace of change, Libeskind says “the world is always changing, but not very slowly. It changes just suddenly. It doesn’t change by evolution, it changes suddenly. If a young architect realizes this, it is a big help. It took me a while to realize that.”
On The market : Ile-des-Soeurs/Nuns Island Griffintown Westmount Downtown Montreal Brossard Candiac Saint-Lambert
Market Reports : Ile-des-Soeurs/Nuns Island Griffintown Westmount Downtown Montreal Dollad-des-Ormeaux Boucherville