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La Vitrine culturelle, Montreal, Canada

Issue 78 April / May 2014 : Retail: Cultural Centre

Architect: AEDIFCA ET GILES HUOT LIGHTING Installation: SOLOTECH


Multimedia studio Moment Factory used LED panels as architectural lighting in their treatment for the façade of Montreal’s new downtown culture hub, 2-22.

The corner of St-Catherine and St-Laurent in Montreal is an area in reform. Once an address synonymous with peep shows and dive bars, this iconic address is now at the heart of a municipal project to create an upscale arts district for the city.

The new 2-22 building is in many ways the cornerstone of the Quartier des Spectactles project. Sitting at this crossroads location, it provides a home to a number of cultural organisations, including community radio station CIBL, cultural information service La Vitrine, documentation centre Artexte, Le Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogeres du Quebec, and visual arts centre VOX. Collectively, these groups - all co-owners of the building - make 2-22 a hive of creativity.

The five-storey structure is the brainchild of the Société de Développement Angus and architects Aedifica and Gilles Huot. Its façade comprises a double skin: a wooden facia covered by an outer glass layer, between which run a series of communal walkways. At street level a diagonal section cuts through the very corner of the building to create the main entrance, the façade pulling back like opening theatre curtains to reveal the activity within the foyer.

The building is designed to have the versatility to accommodate what city planners hope will prove a rich variety of cultural programming over the years to come. To emphasise this role as cultural and creative hub, La Vitrine culturelle turned to Montreal-based multimedia designers Moment Factory to bring the exterior space to life.

Moment Factory had already worked with the client on a number of previous projects. For La Vitrine Culturelle’s previous home at the Place-des-Arts, the team created an award-winning interactive LED façade, and within the foyer of 2-22, they had already created a six metre tall interactive sculpture with ribbons of LED screens that present the latest offerings from La Vitrine culturelle in an informative yet artistic installation. Because of this relationship, the team were brought in at the very start of the project and continued to meet with the client and architects regularly in order to exchange ideas as the plans evolved.
As Moment Factory’s Gabriel Pontbriand explains, this was key to the success of the design.

“Often on these kinds of projects we’re brought in at the end of the process, so the application of the multimedia is quite minimal,” he says. “Here the building hadn’t started construction, so early on we were able to recommend details to help us better integrate our features.”

This closer cooperation helped Moment Factory ensure their scheme would work with the ‘gestures’ of the architecture, rather than providing an extra, unrelated layer on top of the structure. For example, Pontbriand and his colleagues emphasised the diagonal opening at the building’s entrance by integrating grazing fixtures at its edge. As a consequence the structure was adapted to accommodate approximately 100ft of narrow beam fixtures, used to throw light across the length of each façade.

The shape of the building is further emphasised by a 190ft contour of RGBW linear fixtures running along the top edge of the building, controllable at inch-long intervals. There are plans in place to extend this around the edge of both street-facing façades at some point in the future.

Key to Moment Factory’s design was a series of LED screens installed on the underside of the six walkways that sit between the glass and wood façades. Each screen matches the area of the walkway precisely to create six 2ft-wide sections, in lengths of between 50ft and 140ft. To work within their budget, the team selected an older RGB LED technology with an 18mm resolution (rather than a more modern SMD, where all pixels are within a single capsule), as pixel resolution was considered secondary to achieving a complete coverage of the walkway areas. Indeed, rather than considering this a restriction, Moment Factory created content that would work to optimise the effects achievable with the installed technology.

For the majority of the day, the panels display a scrolling ‘ticker-tape’ of forthcoming attractions and shows - an external expression of the tickets available from La Vitrine Culturelle and an extension of the scrolling sculpture already installed in the building’s foyer, visible from the street though the tall entranceway windows. Though displaying information-rich content, it was essential to the designers that this be done subtly. “We were very careful not to create another Times Square,” says Pontbriand. “The people of Montreal pass by this building every day, so we developed content that was more minimalist, more timeless, less dynamic - more like a digital art piece - so that people don’t find it annoying and don’t get tired of seeing it.” As a consequence of this approach, the scrolling text feels quite unlike an advertising hoarding and more like a dynamic piece of graphic design.

When not displaying news of forthcoming events, the screens are programmed to generate a variety of unusual effects. “Early in the process we realised that the LED screens could also be used as an architectural light source,” says Pontbriand. “We did renders to see how the wood façade would be affected by the LED and it became clear it was something we could really work with.”

These architectural lighting effects were factored in when Moment Factory carried out the programming for the exterior scheme, blending them with the building’s curtain grazing and contour lighting. Into this mix was added a third LED screen effect. By producing a single line of light, three pixels thick, along the length of each walkway, the team were able to create a series of trompe l’oeil style visual illusions. With the introduction of tiny fluctuations and adjustments to these light lines, the entire structure appears to warp and ripple.

Moment Factory’s own X-Agora system, installed on site to control the entire façade installation, plays back a selection of stored scenes throughout the day and night. During the day, the feed of forthcoming events scrolls round the building (this is updated daily through an interface in La Vitrine’s office). Every hour, the feed fades out and the building delivers a 60 second performance of ambient lighting effects.
Further into the night, the building becomes more subdued. The lighting adopts a bluer pallet and begins to pulse very gently, slowly breathing, as if sleeping.

In addition to this regular, preprogrammed cycle, the building can be used for special events, with the lighting adapted to suit. To mark its grand opening, for example, 2-22’s walkways became the stage for a series of street theatre performances, for which Moment Factory provided additional lighting effects. Equally, it is hoped the city’s many festivals - such as Fashion Week and Montreal Jazz Festival - could provide the impetus for other one-off ‘happenings’. The X-Agora system is user friendly enough to be reprogrammed by visiting performers, either independently or with help from Moment Factory as required.

As their tag line ‘We do it in public’ suggests, the combination of traditional theatre with urban spaces is at the heart of what Moment Factory do best. And with the new 2-22 façade by La Vitrine culturelle, Montreal has a cultural hub that truly wears its heart on its sleeve.

www.momentfactory.com

 

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