Then and Now #5: St. Urbain Triptych

St. Urbain

This triptych, arranged by Guillaume St-Jean, pays three visits to St. Urbain Street as it descends the slope between Sherbrooke and Ontario streets. The first photo, taken in 1931, reveals a row of classic Victorian greystone houses. By the following year, however, the houses had given way to a new school. Sometime after WWII, the entire block was demolished for a large parking lot. Then, in 2004, the Université du Québec à Montréal expanded its science campus onto the lot.

I think there are a couple of interesting things in these images. First is the way the 1932 school appears to have been built in front of the rowhouse on the right. Although it was common throughout the continent for single-storey commercial blocks to be built on the yard of existing houses, it strikes me as unusual that the same thing would be done for such a substantial-looking new building. What makes this even stranger is that the house on the left appears to have been entirely demolished. Why that one and not the house on the right? Whatever the reason, it gave the streetscape a fascinating layered appearance.

The same cannot be said for the new UQAM building simply because it was built on a blank slate. The parking lot it replaced was enormous, which gave UQAM the opportunity to create a small campus complete with interior streets, passageways and public spaces. The building you see on St. Urbain Street is a student residence. It has been criticized for overwhelming the street with its rather austere façade; it certainly isn’t a friendly building. It’s a notable coincidence, though, that its tall, vertical windows subtly evoke the 1932 building’s same vertical thrust.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Friday April 27 2007at 05:04 pm , filed under Architecture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Then and Now #5: St. Urbain Triptych”

  • Justin Bur says:

    UQAM had been sitting on this site probably since the university’s creation in 1969. Much of it wasn’t even used for parking; it just lay fallow, protected by one of those vaguely ornamental Expo fences. It took a very long time before UQAM finally had the resources to go ahead with construction. (Now the university has overextended itself and has had to curtail future development projects.)

    It’s upsetting when developers assemble and clear large sites decades before beginning construction. Other examples are the space between Simpson’s (Simons) and Ben’s downtown, or the Overdale block. Imagine, the new UQAM residences might have been able to incorporate some greystone elements if they hadn’t been swept away forty years ago.

  • No kidding. One of the worst examples is the Overdale block, near Crescent and René-Lévesque, which was completely razed in the mid-1980s to make way for luxury apartments that never materialized. An entire street and dozens (hundreds?) of apartments were demolished for nothing. Now all that’s left is a gas station and the old Louis H. Lafontaine mansion which is abandoned and threatened with demolition.