One of the few cities to dedicate a museum to the glory of building, the Centre Canadien d’Architecture (Canadian Center for Architecture) in Montreal is itself glorious.
The center is actually two separate buildings.
Combining austere Trenton limestone mined in Quebec with traditional old greystone found throughout Montreal, the buildings reflect the twin aspects of the architecture of the city. Providing a permanent library of over 165,000 volumes along with revolving exhibits, it is both a home to scholars and a popular tourist attraction.
The older of the two structures is an 1874 mansion built for the president of the Pacific Railway, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy. The interior, fully restored to its original state, houses an art nouveau conservatory whose intricately decorated ceiling is alone worth a visit.
The newer building, erected in 1989, is a U-shaped structure that wraps the older one. In the western wing is the auditorium, while the eastern houses an atrium with offices and research areas for visiting scholars. Its unusual design is the brainchild of an unusual woman, Phyllis Lambert. An heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, Lambert is herself an architect and founder of the center.
In the library, visitors can view sketchbooks, plans and other items that comprise one important aspect of the architect’s effort. Some of the exhibits have featured serious, scholarly displays of historical or contemporary work. The Center has featured exhibits on Mies van der Rohe, John Sloan and others. Other events may focus on lighter topics, such as a review of doll houses or the variety of American lawn designs.
But whether the exhibit is technical or just fun, the museum itself is a fine example of what it exists to portray: the variety of impressive building over the centuries. With a combination of modern urban design and near turn of the 20th century housing, it offers a diverse view of the creative endeavors of a unique kind of artist. For an architect is neither sculptor nor storyteller, but a bit of both in a practical shell.
Across the street is a fascinating sculpture garden that displays work that might very well decorate one of the structures detailed in the mansion library. With an array of odd objects along with traditional gardening, it provides a lovely place to sit and admire the museum buildings from the outside.
Visitors will enjoy coming in the main entrance along the north-facing facade and into the grand stairhall that leads to the public spaces on the first floor. The Canadian maple decor nicely offsets the Alcan aluminum used in the modern parts of the center. Skylights illuminate the interior with natural light, providing a delightful ambiance.
Located at 1920 Baile Street, the CCA contains a bookstore that offers material related to the museum’s contents.