In the heart of downtown Montreal, a few steps from Concordia University, a heritage city block has regained its splendor and a new vocation. But the most astonishing aspect of this metamorphosis is not its heads, but the tails – because on its other side are hidden old outbuildings that have become charming townhouses in miniature format. Enter another dimension.
It is by taking an alley that takes itself for a street that we discover the unexpected in the metropolis. There, behind a secure fence, hides a small landscaped alley that instantly transports us to the charming streets of London or old Boston. In the shadow of their matrix, maisonettes line up with a British presence and coquetry of yesteryear.
The William-D.-Stroud residential complex is located on a small stretch of street originally named Buckingham, before being changed to Pierce. In the past, you could live there in the English way in a house typical of London town halls. This panache is still there and explains why the site has been classified as a heritage site.
The exterior of the buildings is virtually intact. The interior, formerly divided into two superimposed accommodations, was however redesigned after the fire of one of the sextuplets. In 2019, the owner, Groupe Forum, undertook to convert the houses into quadruplexes in order to serve the student clientele of this university district.
In the wake of the renovations, a most relevant question arose: what to do with the annexes? At the back of these dwellings are indeed grafted old outbuildings used at the time as an emergency exit and as storage. Having become obsolete and decrepit, they nevertheless had a solid brick envelope and a pretty metal gable roof that gave them the appearance and charm of miniature houses. And that is what they have become.
The envelope has been stabilized and insulated. To gain a few extra feet, essential for the houses to qualify as housing according to the City’s criteria, the shell was slightly altered. The drop-out, however, differs from the original building by its black metallic finish which fades away in favor of the ancestral silhouette and its long windows which accentuate the break between the existing house and the contemporary addition.
Architect Amani Rizk, of the firm Le Borgne Rizk, had the contract to condense the main characteristics of a dwelling into 350 sq. ft. spread over three floors. “It’s the greatest success of this project which offers all the basic elements and atmospheres found in a larger dwelling, without feeling cramped,” she says.
Pushing the front door of this micro-housing gives the impression of entering a doll’s house. A kitchen no more than six feet long welcomes us. The basics are there in a small format: a two-ring hot plate, a mini-fridge, a microwave and a few storage spaces supported by camouflaged drawers in the steps of the stairs. You’ll probably never cook up big feasts here – “but is that necessary when you can find ready-made meals all over the neighborhood and can boost the local economy at the same time?” asks the architect.
Next to the kitchen, in what could be a cupboard, is a bathroom with a heated floor where a toilet, a sink and a shower are concentrated in a space so small that one wonders if it is really functional… The answer is of course yes, even if it looks more like the washrooms of an RV than a standard bathroom.
The upper floor is devoted to the living room and can comfortably accommodate five people. Nothing superfluous in this space as in all the others, but we still managed to integrate a desk area with a hanging shelf whose shelf unfolds as needed. From there, by taking a few steps, you finally reach the bedroom. Storage has been maximized with clever furnishings: a bed with drawers, a small chest of drawers and a visible rod where you can hang a few clothes.
The furniture is included in this “ready to live in” formula designed for people passing through such as students, underlines the promoter’s spokesperson, Alexandra Serafini. “Imagine coming to live in Montreal for a year or two, but having to get all your furniture! Here, we find turnkey and all-inclusive. You can arrive and drop off your suitcase. »
Renting a small house with access to a garden is something exceptional in the city center. The concept offers privacy, less “cohabitation” between neighbors and acoustic issues, notes Amani Rizk. “For us, being able to salvage an existing building is a nice bonus. We may do the most ecological project, if we demolish to rebuild, it is less interesting than to make recovery. This project makes it possible to reaffirm certain values: do we need to over-consume and accumulate so many goods? »
Rethinking life in the very small has been a stimulating challenge, she adds, while lamenting that it is so difficult to advance a project of this type within the framework imposed by the City of Montreal. “We lack space downtown and this kind of idea is a way to push creativity further to densify the territory. The concept of the tiny house has been gaining ground for twenty years in Quebec. It is a solution that simply makes sense in an urban environment. It might be time to sit down to review the regulations and redefine living in the city, ”she says in conclusion.
Completed in 1890, the William-D.-Stroud residential complex comprises six three-storey terraced houses which are a fine example of residential architecture in an urban setting. The whole forms a homogeneous whole typical of the terraced houses built for the middle class at the end of the 19th century. Its period architectural details have been carefully preserved, in particular the false slate attics, the dormer windows or the rounded porticoes which give it a majestic air.
We recognize the prestigious signature of the architect of Scottish origin Robert Findlay, also at the origin of the first building of Sun Life, several opulent houses of Montreal as well as the city hall and the library of Westmount . For all these reasons, the Pierce Street residential complex is a heritage site and underwent its first facelift in 1997 to restore its historic attributes.