The urban housing project, Irène, located in Montreal’s borough, St-Henri, exemplifies innovation as a valuable design tool to individualize a building within the City. Perforated aluminium panels were customized into a novel exterior building envelope that screens the upper three storeys of an addition above an existing industrial building. Drawing an analogy with a theatrical curtain, the metallic skin acts equally to veil and to reveal the activity within, serving a performative function that adds a touch of spectacle to the neighbourhood.
The design process was prominently embedded throughout the building; the steps taken during conceptual design and the research & development phases lead to the decision to make an architectural feature the iconic persona of the project. Irène substantiates the incorporation of a poetic concept in conjunction with a challenging technical innovation to give rise to a functional, viable and aesthetic project.
The site presented the opportunity to renovate and restore an existing two-storey industrial building dating back to 1938. A considerable effort was made to study and understand both the residual building and the surrounding context, presently undergoing substantial urban revitalization. For the three-storey addition, the approach was to create the impression of a light and floating volume atop the existing, heavier base — a contrasting superstructure that, by virtue of its difference, gives rise to a dialogue between old and new, tradition and contemporary, the building and its surroundings.
A play of transparency and opacity defined a perforation pattern that made use of three distinct hole sizes and spacing. These modular panels created an overall image replicating the curtain analogy. Much like a skin, this perforated metal cladding on the south facing facades, allows the building to breathe, while serving as a passive sun shield. Its user-operated panel system lets occupants control variables like ventilation, daylight and privacy.
Translating the conceptual image into a tangible product was a complex procedure entailing extensive research and design, modelling, testing and on site trouble-shooting. Precedence for this type of building envelope system in our Northern climate was not readily available. The user-operable components needed to be designed to withstand the climatic challenges, such as freeze/thaw cycle, snow/ice interference and wind loads.
A full-scale mock-up of the paneling system was erected to study issues of operability, aesthetics, feasibility, durability, waterproofing, wind patterns, solar screening (optimal perforation size) and transparency/opacity for light and privacy concerns. This allowed a refinement of the facade system before final on-site validations.