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Canada Travelogue #2

Work by textiles students at Milieux, Concordia University photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Work by textiles students at Milieux, Concordia University
Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square
Canadian Centre for Architecture photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Canadian Centre for Architecture
Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67 photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67

14 November 2016
by João Guarantani

For the second half of his visit to Canada, our Senior Programme Manager João Guarantani visits Montreal, one of UNESCO's Cities of Design.

This is my second visit to Montreal and it's great to be back - I love the energy of the place, and the links it celebrates with the 'Old World' with a seemingly deffinatly optmistic outlook. The city is renowned for its adoption of excellent design, evidenced through its radical public realm strategies, a metro system bursting with great design features, and some of North America's most iconic architecture, including Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square, Moshe Safdie's Habitat 1967 and the remnants of the American 'Biosphere' pavilion at Expo 67. 

The main reason we're in town is to attend the VR Salon organised by MUTEK - an inspiring week-long programme dedicated to new technological and artistic developments in virtual reality (VR) and other digital media. British Council Canada has developed great links with MUTEK, which is one of the longest-running festivals dedicated to digital cultures in the world, and there are some interesting plans to connect the UK and the Montreal/Quebec scene even more in 2017.

The festival is spread across different venues around the city, and I get the chance to visit the impressive Phi Centre, one of MUTEK's partner institutions. With an incredibly ambitious programme covering visual arts, performance and music - to name but a few disciplines - the Phi is in a strategic location in the heart of Old Montreal. They already hold very strong connections with the UK (Somerset House's 'Björk Digital' installation is on show as we visit, and includes a special Montreal commission), and we discuss ways to strengthen these ties. More to come in the New Year!

Across on the other side of town we catch up with Julia Albani, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). Julia is another good friend of ADF's as we collaborated with her at Lisbon Architecture Triennale back in 2010, and she is now in charge of communications for the CCA, as well as some of their key public programmes. The CCA is renowned for its influential exhibition programme, and a hub for leading international architecture curators, so it's good to be back (I first visited for the biennial ICAM conference back in 2014). Sadly we miss the opening of their next exhibition, focusing on the work of Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, Armin Linke, and Bas Princen, by a few days. We speak at length about the need for Architecture to jump off its pedestal and to connect with different audiences, and the role that digital communications can play in doing just that, and I'm excited to see the CCA website being positioned as an engaging programming platform in its own right - one of Julia's first stabs at the job following her recent appointment. 

Besides Architecture, Design education also plays a key part in the creative landscape in this city, and we see some interesting work being done at two of Quebec's leading universities: Concordia and UQAM. At Concordia, I'm particularly impressed by some of the research into wearable technologies in their multidisciplinary Milieux hub, while at UQAM we're inspired by the history and relevance of their Design Centre, a space dedicated to promoting design through temporary exhibitions and other public programmes and competitions. 

Montreal's status as a 'Design City' is undisputed, and this was made official by UNESCO in 2006. This work has continued since, and is led by the team at Montreal's Bureau du Design, an office dedicated to promoting excellence in design across the city through a diverse range of activities. Their designer directory is a great tool, and a great window into the work being done in the city. We speak about the potential to link British and Montreal-based designers through collaborative activities, and we start by helping the Bureau promote one of their many international design competitions

The city's ambition to continue to congregate the best of design is very much alive, and as we are about to leave we connect with the team behind the upcoming World Design Summit, scheduled for October 2017. While the scope seems fairly commercial - at least at first glance - I am once again reminded of the energy of this city to celebrate design in all its forms, and to use it as a catalyst for mutual discovery, a great way to end my own journey of discovery, hoping for more design connections between Canada and the UK.