176_Lorenzo Saroli: An Architecture of Excavation


From McGill Architecture (@mcgill_architecture)

An architecture of excavation

Masters Thesis, 2017

Thesis supervisor: Prof Martin Bressani

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 We face the quandary of wanting to conserve what is obsolete.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. However, for the most part, these 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 has always maintained a strong link with belief and the afterlife. In the framework of my thesis, I picked the 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, its history and both churches dictated the design process, highlighting three main problems: the forgotten heritage of the city’s Irish population, the underuse of both churches and the loss of their status as urban monuments. Thus 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 and 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