Smith Vigeant Architectes’ award-winning beauty for the Montréal aqueduct

Smith Vigeant Architectes,

David Boyer,

Montréal, Canada,


Canadian architectural studio Smith Vigeant Architectes designed a building for the Montreal aqueduct, a delicate project in the natural setting of the green banks of the canal in a public park which has conquered the local citizens and been awarded the Order of Architects of Quebec’s Prize for Excellence in Architecture 2022 in the industrial buildings category.

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Smith Vigeant Architectes’ award-winning beauty for the Montréal aqueduct 
Architect Richard Rogers once said: “You can’t think about architecture without thinking about people.” And when you think about people, you make buildings that attract consensus. This is what happened in Montreal. To improve the quality of its drinking water, the city needed to build a new water intake on the 8 km long Canal de l’Aqueduc that brings water from the Saint Lawrence River to satisfy a part of the city’s water requirements. The spot in question is located right in the middle of a public park in the Verdun district. Announcement of the construction of a building for this purpose on the green banks of the Canal immediately caused much concern among the community of residents and users. For this reason, the City of Montreal and the architects of Smith Vigeant Architectes considered it essential to minimise the building’s visual impact in this verdant setting, with expressive and highly significant architecture that fits discretely and delicately into the park. 
The city’s initial idea of a completely transparent wrapper permitting observation of the activities taking place in the building was not practical for reasons of security and performance, but this did not limit the imagination of the architects from Smith Vigeant Architectes, who have stood out for their great commitment to sustainability, innovation and collaboration ever since Daniel Smith and Stéphan Vigeant founded the studio in 1992. Their design is clearly inspired by the nature of water, as a metaphor inspiring both the materials and the composition. 
Like water, continually flowing but never the same, the building’s appearance changes with time and the seasons, thanks to the choice of glass characterising the cubic volume. The appearance of the glass changes with the time of day, like the surface of the water, so that the building gives off a soft, reassuring light at night. In summer the plants around it cover the building in a coat of vegetation, while the colour of the glass makes it look like a block of ice in winter. The analogies with water also appear in the markedly horizontal lines of the volume, the glass cube and the railing evoking the horizontality of water.
Thanks to the beautiful formal choices and focus on design of Smith Vigeant Architectes, what is for all purposes a purely utilitarian building, in which aesthetics would not normally be taken into account, becomes a work of architecture in harmony with its environment. It manages to stand out as expressing respect for public space, a value essential to the life of the community. 
The gesture was appreciated by the judges of the Prize for Excellence in Architecture 2022 of the Order of Architects of Quebec, recognising that the project goes “beyond a simple infrastructure of public utility to include important technical facilities required for the city aqueduct”, awarding it the prize in the industrial buildings category for its “significant contribution to the landscape of this part of the city and to the industrial architecture of Montreal in general.” 
It would be great to see the same focus on the beauty of utilitarian municipal buildings in other cities, too!

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Smith Vigeant Architectes
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Year: 2021
Images: David Boyer


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