As a prominent gateway into one of the world’s most creative cities, the terrain along the corridor between the Montreal-Trudeau International airport to Montreal’s downtown is the home of historic relics from the city’s industrial roots, crumbling highways, railways and a mid-eighteenth century canal. In its current state it doesn’t exactly reflect the creative, contemporary people and place of Montreal – but it is ripe with potential. This is why the International Ideas Competition YUL-MTL : MOVING LANDSCAPES chose the site to spark ideas for a wave of regeneration. Along with more than 60 other designers around the world, SWA submitted its vision for what could be.
We were struck by the Synchronous Infrastructure of the highways, railways, and canal. There were possibilities for functional land forms to become a grid based on parametric inputs of noise, proximity to the canal and views of attractions to designate activity or flux in land development throughout the site. These crossings form multi-lateral connections that grant movement for neighborhoods, habitat and recreation opportunities. The landscape acts as a visual mechanism of this movement and performs as a layering of recreational and connective spaces. Aside from the highway performing its intended function of shuttling cars and trucks, the multifunctional variations of Synchronous Infrastructure pays homage to the surrounding natural landscapes and the significance of the area’s past industrial use – and does this in a way that reads equally well to those traveling 60 mph by car or train as to the bicyclist, cross-country skier or walker.
The highways and the other variable infrastructure systems become the structure for urban revitalization and ecological development. The existing abandoned freight rail lines are reactivated with new passenger cars and refurbished train stations where new connections have been added to alleviate commuter and airport traffic. Catalytic new attractions are concentrated at transit nodes and along the bike paths to spur use and adjacent development. Additional connectivity is provided through an expanded system of bike trails.
The creativity of this awarded UNESCO City of Design is reflected in the manipulated topography around the highway corridor. In areas of congestion and frequent noise pollution the land pushes close to the thoroughfare to function as naturalized sound barriers and as visual shields for local residents. In some instances, the earth completely envelopes the road and forms a tunnel for pedestrian and wildlife crossing above. In other areas, the terrain opens broadly, pulling attention and the line of sight away from the immediate action to reveal view corridors, landmarks and recreation destinations.
A series of lakes further expand this area’s draw on the outdoor enthusiasts who already dominate the use of the old canal. Democratic access to open space positions a lake within a 20-minute walk from any neighborhood. The crisply shaped lakes situated in valleys of rolling hills are ideal for impromptu hockey games for the active hockey-playing culture when they are iced over. In summer, the expanded network of bike trails along the corridor offers improved alternatives for commuting downtown. In winter commuters and recreationalists alike use these paths for cross-country skiing.