From Street to Sculpture Garden

So few cities have great outdoor sculpture gardens, but, lucky for us, Montreal is soon to join that exclusive list. Later this year, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) will open an expanded sculpture garden, making it one of Canada’s largest collections of public art. A key piece of the project is transforming one street along the museum into a new pedestrian mall during the summer months. All of this only happened because the museum and city government worked closely to design the project.

For the new sculpture garden, which actually lines the streets in parts, there will be over 20 art works, including new commissions by David Altmejd and Jim Dine. In this outdoor gallery, though, the elegant streetscape and plinths may be as big of a draw as the art.

A design team made up of Wade Eide, an architect with the city, Julie St-Arnaud, a landscape architect, Gilles Arpin, a lighting designer, and Adad Hannah, an artist, set up a set of “collaborative design workshops” to create basic concepts for a “unified” environment for the museum’s four pavilions. According to the team, the project led to changing the “geometry” of two streets, including widening sidewalks to increase street space for pedestrians. One street slopes up, so this part of the sculpture garden will be designed as a set of terraces that flow upward. 

The art and streetscape material elements are only enhanced by the addition of a dozen new native trees, including Ironwoods and Accolade elm trees. There are also new pieces of urban furniture, designed by Hannah, that offer both plinths for the artwork and places to sit. In fact, the design of the trees and sitting areas are inspired by Montreal’s natural environment and its Mont Royal. The design team writes: “The incorporation of very large tree pits filled with shrubbery evoke the rich vegetation of the mountain, while the selection and placement of urban furniture and plinths for the sculptures composed from limestone blocks symbolize the limestone of the substrata of Montreal rising up from the tree pits and from the concrete sidewalks.” 

Beyond the deep tree pits and native plants, there are also innovative new sustainable materials. A research project by the Université de Sherbrooke, which was funded by the Société des alcools du Québec, the provincial liquor vendor, led to a concrete mix composed of “finely ground glass made from discarded wine and liquor bottles,” which enabled the design team to cut down on the use of Portland cement. It’s also a lighter color, which fits in with the aesthetic profile of the project.  

The project is about creating a sense of “simplicity, utility, and noblesse,” while offering an outdoor exhibition space that provides a “neutral background” for the sculptures.  

The museum is in the process of redesigning its spaces and reinstalling 4,000 works of art in new collection spaces. Good to know when next in Montreal: the museum’s permanent collection is always free.

Image credits: (1) Early conceptual 3D photoreal rendering, aerial view: Bernard Fougères, MMFA, 2009, (2) Early conceptual 3D photoreal rendering, street view: Bernard Fougères, MMFA, 2009, (3-4) Terraced Sculpture Garden under construction / Denis Labine. City of Montreal, (5) Working model of streetscape / Wade Eide, (6) Plinths / Denis Labine. City of Montreal

One thought on “From Street to Sculpture Garden

  1. Hmmmmm 03/05/2012 / 8:58 am

    Nice looking project. another thing to add to my “want to see” list.

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