Complexe des arts begins to emerge from Mother House 

Process of consultation is the next step

Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts is finally seeing the emergence of a plan for a complexe des arts on the Grey Nuns property that will not only meet its needs but also provide a venue to reinforce the dynamic role that it plays in the city and in Quebec. Currently, the Fine Arts Faculty is divided over two campuses and more than 14 buildings. Although the new EV building’s state of the art studios and classrooms have benefited about 25% of Fine Arts programs, other programs are less fortunate and some are located in very poor facilities making it very difficult to meet all the needs of 3 500 students, faculty and staff.

The present site as developed by the Grey Nuns (left) and a sketch of Concordia\’s vision for the site incorporating the H-shaped complex originally proposed by Victor Bourgeau in 1868 (right). Magnifying glass

The present site as developed by the Grey Nuns (left) and a sketch of Concordia\’s vision for the site incorporating the H-shaped complex originally proposed by Victor Bourgeau in 1868 (right).

“A dedicated complexe des arts, with its adjoining grounds and green space, will allow important curricular synergies to flourish and will make visible our faculty’s, students’ and alumni’s integration in, and engagement with Montreal’s vibrant fine arts’ community. It will provide new opportunities to forge fresh bonds within the university and into the extended community,” said Fine Arts Dean Catherine Wild.

In 2004, the university and the Grey Nuns, an order with a history and tradition of social responsibility, reached an understanding for a phased-in turnover of the property. With Concordia now in possession of the property, the agreement involves a long-term plan that would both preserve the heritage value of the site and offer students and professors the facilities they need. VP Services Michael Di Grappa has just finalized a critical path exercise to ensure that the project goes forward with support from all our stakeholders.

The university has already sought the advice of the Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine, the Commission des biens culturels, the City of Montreal and the Conseil du patrimoine de Montréal to determine the architectural, archeological, patrimonial and landscape values of the site and the potential for expansion or change.

"We have a guiding vision for the project and a 'volumetric' study has been conducted to determine the space requirements for Fine Arts and the best placement of new construction." said Di Grappa. "Now, we are ready to proceed with numerous internal and external consultations. We intend to go beyond the minimum required by the city, as was the case with projects like the construction of the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex at Loyola as well as with the Quartier Concordia urban planning project. This will be done in the weeks and months ahead."

Following architect Victor Bourgeau’s original plan for an H-shaped complex, the west wing along St. Mathieu St. would be completed. The intent is to remain faithful to the historical footprint and allow the addition of performance, rehearsal and theatre spaces on a scale currently unavailable in the existing building.

But the potential removal of trees and green space has raised concerns with some local residents. In fact, in the current concept, there will be a net gain of 1 100 sq. metres of green space on the site, since a kitchen and a garage built on the site in the 1940s would be demolished. A study also demonstrated which trees on the property are too old or were damaged by the ice storm and which ones should be preserved and moved, if possible.

At a lecture on public art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (see story), Clarence Epstein, director of special projects and cultural affairs, spoke about how the integration of the Grey Nuns site has greatly increased our green space and will ultimately benefit the community-at-large.

Eventually, shifting from a religious mission to an educational one would allow the surrounding community ongoing access to the site’s grounds, theatres, galleries and exhibition halls. Di Grappa points to a similar interface between western NDG and the Jesuit-conceived Loyola campus, which amid historical and state-of the-art buildings, offers green space, concert halls, a library and athletics complex to the community. "At the Grey Nuns, we see ourselves as stewards of another great institutional legacy to be shared."


Concordia University