Facades that hide a neglect of heritage

Facadism, the practice of keeping only the facade of a heritage building to build a new building behind, is increasingly common in Montreal. However, this is not a good practice of heritage conservation, denounces a report from the Montreal Heritage Council (CPM), filed a few days ago.

“Indeed, it is becoming a habit rather than an exception,” says Peter Jacobs, president of the organization.

Already in the 1970s, during the construction of UQAM, we had demolished the Saint-Jacques church to keep only the bell tower by integrating it into the new building.

But the examples are multiplying today. In interview with the To have to, Peter Jacobs cites the case of the Craig pumping station, located at the foot of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. “They only kept the facade, but it was so deteriorated and surrounded by highways. There is a bit of foundation and chimney left, ”he says. He also cites the example of Bain Hushion, rue des Seigneurs, of which only the facade has been preserved, and which is being transformed into a center for Native women.

In fact, facadism often hides urban densification, favored by the urban plan and by land speculation, especially in downtown Montreal.

There are, we can read in the report, “contradictions between certain development criteria indicated in the Master Plan and heritage conservation. The high heights and densities permitted, in particular in certain areas of the city center, exert enormous real estate pressure on small heritage buildings and encourage their demolition, or even the conservation and integration of their facade into a new construction. “.

To leave abandoned

Worse, the Heritage Council denounces the “strategy” of leaving buildings abandoned and then being forced to raze them given their condition.

“The vacancy and lack of maintenance of heritage buildings often make their demolition almost inevitable due to their poor condition. Before going to such situations […], it is important to act upstream and prevent the vacancy and lack of maintenance of heritage buildings, ”the document reads.

This attitude is prevalent in both the institutional and private sectors, adds Jacobs. But the relationship is not kind to the City of Montreal, which should play an exemplary role in this area.

“On the other hand, it is difficult to demand from private owners a behavior that the City is struggling to implement itself, because despite its intention to be an exemplary owner and manager of its heritage buildings, it unfortunately looks poor. The PMO believes that public bodies in particular should lead by example when it comes to the maintenance of their heritage buildings, ”we read.

Mainly concentrated in downtown Montreal, the phenomenon of facadism began to spread to other neighborhoods.

“If in the past, the issue of densification mainly affected the city center, it now extends to residential neighborhoods. Note the example of houses of type “shoebox“, Which raise concerns following several demolitions,” write the authors of the report.

Finally, according to the report, zoning encourages, sometimes indirectly, the massive presence of office buildings or condo towers in the city center, to the detriment of other uses more appropriate to the nature of the existing heritage buildings.

Gaps in heritage conservation are pervasive at all levels of government, says Jacobs. This is how several heritage buildings have simply disappeared from the landscape.

“There is a significant loss of heritage and it must be stopped,” he says.

On Monday, no one was available at the City of Montreal to comment on the Council’s report.

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