A revolution is preparing in the world of skyscrapers, these high towers that we bypass without ever pushing the doors. Their next generation promises to be more inviting to passers-by and spark neighborhood life within its walls.
This concept has a name: vertical community, or vertical city, in English. Long considered a subject of futuristic study, it is now at the heart of sometimes spectacular projects led by several world-class architectural firms in Milan, Melbourne and New York.
In Montreal, the Humaniti project, located very close to the Palais des Congrès, paved the way in 2021 for this new type of large buildings where office, retail and residential spaces are now mixed. The Odea Montreal building, currently under construction in Old Montreal, also stems from this line of thinking, says Jean-François Gagnon, senior partner at the architectural firm Lemay.
These buildings are a break with the vertical city as it has been conceived for more than a century, says Mr. Gagnon, who signs the Odea Montreal project with Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal. This development was necessary in a desire for urban densification, he adds.
“We have been witnessing for a few years a return to urban centers”, believes the architect. “However, with traditional buildings, we try to densify the city to bring as many people as possible inside a defined vertical lot, but for single use: we work there or we live there”, recalls Jean-François Gagnon, senior partner at the architectural firm Lemay.
This traditional separation of uses creates a city made up of homogeneous spaces closed in on themselves, devoid of an enriching collective life. Urban life is also reduced to strictly utilitarian pedestrian journeys, from place to place.
However, the recent pandemic has made people realize the importance of a satisfying social life, believes architect Marie-Ève Parent, also a partner at Lemay.
“For months people have been deprived of real human encounters. They realized the limits of technology in this regard. They now want to forge strong ties with their community, ”believes this specialist in landscape architecture.
Unlike a traditional building, a vertical community is a space open to the city.
“You can find a daycare center for young families and student residences as well as care units for the elderly,” adds Ms. Parent.
This mix leads to a community life where owners and tenants of all ages and from all backgrounds, office workers, merchants and their customers, as well as tourists when the building contains a hotel, as in Humaniti.
This mix makes it possible to break social isolation and, at the same time, to enhance the happiness of the members of the community, continues Mr. Gagnon.
“When we design a project, we try to reach the seven major dimensions of human well-being: the intellectual, the physical, the social, the spiritual, the professional, the emotional and the environmental,” explains the architect.
“In a vertical community, the person who leaves their home follows a path where they can meet new people and make interesting encounters in common spaces, creative places, sports facilities, coworking spaces or even places of entertainment. »
This bouquet of recreational, social and medical services is often the main attraction of seniors’ residences. “But before that, the elderly person will often have had to experience one, two or three uprootings. The vertical community allows you to grow within it,” says Gagnon.
A vertical community is also distinguished by the way it fits into the urban fabric, explains Mr. Gagnon. Instead of an intimidating forecourt leading to a series of closed doors, it offers a public square where all city dwellers from the neighborhood or passing through can invite themselves.
Art and history naturally occupy a prominent place in these public squares.
The courtyard of the Odea Montreal project, financed by a Cree holding company, will notably evoke the boreal forest and the culture of this nation with ancient traditions. Specializing in visual arts, the Darling Foundry, located just opposite, will present various works and performances on an ongoing basis.
Finally, the design of a vertical community is based on a resilient and sustainable architecture, so as to minimize its carbon footprint. It must be well served by public transit, emphasizes Jean-François Gagnon. “It has to be connected to reduce dependence on the car in the city. It’s important,” he believes.