This is the variety of stone that you pass when you walk down rue Saint-Jacques (Saint James Street) in Old Montréal. Each façade has its own textures and rhythms. Stones are the bones of the earth. They are solid and timeless. I still remember my secondary school geography class teaching me about igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock. I had no idea then how these old boulders could influence the character of a building, a street, or a neighbourhood.
Stone is more than prestigious; it is natural and durable. When the knowledge of concrete-cement disappeared at the end of the Roman Empire, not to be rediscovered until the 18th century, masonry construction was much of what we had left during the middle ages and the Renaissance. Stone elevated the airy Gothic cathedrals and solidified the staid Enlightenment palazzos. It is strong, solid, and reassuring.
Stone is also a texture that plays with light. It can contain deep shadows or small dimples. The sun bathes it from many angles during the Earth’s 365-day solar voyage. The orange-smooth autumn light softens craggy surfaces whilst the cold winter light is blocked by its stiffness. The sizes and configurations of rock walls are as varied as the street names of a city. Pass by a building and take a moment to touch and feel the walls. Wrap your knuckles over the rough surface. Cast your eyes skyward to notice the transition of materials and textures, shadows and light. Suddenly the monument breaks down into layers, voids, planes, and projections.
Not only is it in the air, but stone can also be under foot. Think of the great squares in Europe and the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal. In shades of grey and varied sizes and finishes, stone pavers and tiles animate the very ground we walk on.
Stone construction is a symbol of quality, craftsmanship, and care. Its historic sensibility is due to its durability. It is old because it has survived much longer than other building materials, but that does not mean that stone cannot be contemporary. Berlin uses it to create dynamic sidewalks. The inscribed red path is for cyclists; a subtle and effective way to integrate urban bike paths into a city’s transportation network. Copenhagen, one of Europe’s pedestrian capitals, is famous for the varied designs of its stone streets and public squares.
The granite floor of the Palais des congrès (Montréal Convention Centre) main entry hall is enlivened by the candy coloured façade obscuring the scattered pattern of greys and black. Perhaps this is the glass façade’s best effect, especially when it is -20C in January!
Tags: Montreal, Urban Design