The new Faculty of Music brings a breath of freshness to Montreal’s McGill University campus. This eight-stories building designed by Architects Saucier + Perrotte is located on a narrow strip of land at the South-East corner of McGill at the intersection of Sherbrooke and Aylmer streets. Design Principal Gilles Saucier did a careful reading of the urban context assimilating its components and deriving the conceptual guidelines for the building’s exterior.
South of the McGill Campus lies the Montreal downtown area. All the way to Sherbrooke, the land is relatively flat. Then it starts ascending upward to the mountain of Mont-Royal. Gilles Saucier was inspired from these topographical conditions; "It's as if McGill acted like a geological plate that shifted the city grid, so the building design accentuates that fact." The architecture of building was imagined as exposed strata that were eroded from Mont-Royal.
The Elevation along Aylmer Street clearly expresses this concept. With the pronounced horizontality of its materials, it symbolizes the stratified geological layers of a weathered mountain. 20ft above ground level, the architects implemented a folded concrete plane that appears to support the main body of the building above. It evokes an eroded ground plane, which leads to the Mount Royal beyond. The wall above the concrete plane is covered in black and grey zinc cladding, with long strip windows that light the office corridors, dynamically located to accentuate the horizontality of the elevation and the concept of stratification.
Sherbrooke is a busy commercial street. The building projects itself towards the street as if the intention might be the will to communicate with the people passing by, and with the elevation covered mainly with transparent glass, helps them get a glimpse inside the building. In clear contrast with its Aylmer Street elevation, the architecture here is accentuated vertically. This helps it integrate with the buildings surrounding it on Sherbrooke; a mixture of high-rise upscale hotels and office buildings.
On its western side, the building connects to the existing home of the Faculty of Music, the nineteenth century traditional Strathcona Hall. The west façade is a pattern of matt and polished aluminum that reflects the Strathcona building on its surface while a series of punched windows, recalling the piano rolls used in antique mechanical pianos, bring light into the smaller spaces inside. With the Strathcona Hall recessed from the street and the new building projecting towards it, a small open public space was created and has become a gathering place for the students.
The building’s interior design derives from an ambitious program established by Don McLean, the visionary Dean of the School of Music. He aims for the new complex to become the world's leading sound recording and music technology research facility and enable him to continue to attract faculty involved in innovative and creative musical research. The program adds to the faculty space, and includes a library, recital hall, state-of-the-art multimedia and practice studios, as well as faculty offices.
At the core of the space is a five-storey multimedia studio, embedded three stories into the ground at the north end of the lot. This is a gigantic column free concrete box measuring 60 by 80 by 50 feet, with state of the art acoustical isolation. It provides exceptional acoustic properties complemented by adjacent control rooms housing high-end technological systems. The studio is capable of accommodating a full symphony orchestra as well as a chorus-well over 300 people.
To the south of the multimedia studio, practice rooms and technical studios inhabit this underground realm. Above these rooms a 200-seat recital hall occupies the center of the ground floor and mezzanine. The profile of this hall gets reflected on the external enclosure at Aylmer Street. The three floors above the auditorium constitute the library. The library overlooks Sherbrooke Street. As the architect explains: "With its triple-level glazing opening up its white interior, the library becomes this white object within a grey container." Above the library are two floors of office space. A penthouse floor that contains studios and music research labs finally crowns the building.
Undeniably, the architecture of the building creates an impact in its environment. It was designed to give prominence to the southeast corner of the McGill University Campus. The architects, through a careful reading of the urban texture, succeed in the creation of a landmark. Equally remarkable is the handling of a complex and ambitious program that they rendered into a functional layout, with a clear spatial distribution that is well connected to the existing premises.
© All pictures are courtesy of and are the copyright of Marc Cramer
Project : New Pavilion for the McGill University Schulich School of Music
Total area : 11 775 m2
Client : McGill University
Awards : AERMQ Award of Excellence 2006
Canadian Architect Award of Excellence 1994
Design Architects: SAUCIER + PERROTTE architectes, 7043 Waverly, Montréal, Québec, H2S 3J1
Architects: Menkès Shooner Dagenais architectes / Saucier + Perrotte architectes.
Design Principal : Gilles Saucier, SAUCIER+PERROTTE architectes
Project team: Gilles Saucier, Anik Shooner, Caroline Elias, Maxime-Alexis Frappier, Anna Bendix
Anne Sophie Allard, Audrey Archambault, Eda Ascioglu, Patrice Bégin, Catherine Bélanger, Alain Boudrias, Nathalie Cloutier, Jean-Yves Couture, Robert Dequoy, Maxime Gagné, Pierre Gervais, Mana Hemami, Jean-Sebastien Herr, Yvon Lachance, Marc-Antoine Larose, Jean-Louis Léger, Josiane Mac, Andrea MacElwee, Éric Majer, Claudio Nunez, Annie Paradis, Alex Parmentier, Harvens Piou, Isabelle Roy, Annie-Claude Sauvé, Sudhir Suri, Michel Thompson.
Structure : Saia Deslauriers Kadanoff Leconte Brisebois Blais
Mechanical / Electrical : Pellemon inc. / BPR
Acoustics Consultant : ARTEC
General Contractor : EBC Inc.
Project Management: DECAREL