These last few years I’ve noticed something strange in Montreal. It's easy to remain captivated by the landmarks in this art deco city. They draw us back, romantically, to another era. But getting stuck in the past can sometimes blind us. As citizens we aren’t asking any questions, as we are not connecting what “once was” to what “presently is”. Whenever I pay close attention to a building’s craftsmanship, I ask myself, “Why can't we build like this anymore?”
It's a simple exercise really. Just look, for example, at the Centre D'Histoire (The Old Number One Fire station) in Old Montreal and compare it to anything going up now. My favorite target is the concept of the mini-mall. These impersonal and menacing gargoyles are popping up like dandelions all across the suburbs, and it's caused me to ponder the state of architecture in the city. Evidently, we have lost our architectural soul.
Thankfully, architects are aware of what is going on. “For starters, architects should constantly be asking how they can improve the world that surrounds them. We think we're asking the right questions but we're really not,” was how one Montreal architect put it.
What is preventing them from thinking along these lines? “We are mired in a post-modern quagmire in Montreal,” says a professor of architecture at the University of Montreal. He says the age we live in demands that economics and profitability prevail above all considerations. In this way, it is hard to ask the right questions when it comes to imagining a project. It detracts us from progressing.
Premium on Convenience
Our age can be characterized as one that puts a premium on convenience. These new one-stop mini-towns feel as though they are fabricated on a Hollywood set. It does not matter if they don’t invite us to stop and enjoy the architecture over coffee. What matters are the demands of a fast paced consumer society. I know, this has been said before, but it does merit repeating. We, the citizens, must shoulder part of the blame.
Computers have made our lives more efficient and in some cases quite creative. But how much reliance should be placed on the marvels of the technology age? “Today, thanks to technology, awards go to the person with the most aesthetically pleasing presentation even though it may not have any deep architectural value. We can't distinguish between what is bad and good design anymore. Contemporary students don't need to sit and think in abstract terms,” was how a student I questioned put it. This sounds very much like the state of politics and writing, doesn't it?