Student: Lorenzo Saroli Palumbo
Advisor: Martin Bressani
Studio: Directed Research Project
Year/Term: Fall 2016
A common outcry can be heard from Montrealers, pleading for the conservation of their churches. The city’s attachment to the Catholic Church is undeniable, and its evolutionary reliance on it was unmatched. In addition to embodying urban monumentality and punctuating the built environment, the presence of the city’s religious patrimony throughout the urban landscape bore witness to the Church’s importance in all aspects of life – transcending spirituality and religion to deal with social, cultural and political issues. However, over the past half-century, reduced government funding, important demographic shifts and declining church attendance have all explained an increased threat to the vitality of urban churches with a chronic desertion of spaces of worship throughout the city. We may no longer yearn to take part in the rituals our religious patrimony once housed, but we also refuse to let it disappear. Our churches remain important urban monuments that constitute relics of our own evolution as a community, both as typologies dominating the urban fabric as well as by retaining their presence as sanctuaries of memory. We face the quandary of wanting to conserve what is obsolete.
Our churches have found new ways of being re-used, transformed into condominiums, theatres or libraries. But these transformations fail to maintain a link with their initial spiritual and communal purpose. My vision is to convert an underused church while maintaining these important qualities by transforming it into a mausoleum, as death rituals always maintains a strong link with belief and the question of the afterlife. In the framework of my thesis, I picked sister churches of Saint Charles and Saint Gabriel, located in Pointe-Saint-Charles. The site is unique as it houses two catholic parishes, one Irish and one Francophone, standing side by side. The site and its history dictated the design process, highlighting three main problems: the forgotten heritage of the city’s Irish population, their declining use, and the loss of their status as urban monuments. The project proposes three interventions to mitigate these urban and social issues. The design proposal focuses on addressing church disuse, commemorating the city’s Irish legacy and re-invigorating the physical monument icon that is the Church. An Architecture of Excavation re-instates the social, cultural and urban relevance of these relics through the redesign of the parish of Saint Gabriel and the deep extraction of the site’s rich layers of history.