L’Espace des neuf soeurs - Pointe-Saint-Charles

For the second year, graduate students in architectural history at Concordia University considered urban sites in the city of Montreal as built and spatial palimpsests, that is, spaces of inscription, erasure and reinscription. The idea of the palimpsest is usually reserved for literary material, but in this project it became a metaphor for the ways in which the city changes through time, through its users and the various political and cultural forces that work upon its shared places. This year, students were challenged to find within Montreal a “contested site” where the history of struggle, conflict or the assertion of identity could be traced through the built environment. The students examined these locations to see what spatial or architectural continuities could be found between past and present, whose memories are celebrated, which ghosts haunt these sites, what performances of identity took and take place. The resulting essays explore a wide range of architectural typologies, from church design and social housing to the dance pavilion and the trailer park. The papers are likewise rich in terms of methodological variety, deploying cognitive mapping for sites that have vanished without material trace, and oral history for buildings that are now closed to public access. All the essays assembled here provide a deep, social archaeology of their site, discovering how cultures of entertainment, philanthropy and urban renewal have marked the places in question.

At a public conference in April 2009, twelve graduate students presented their research to a lively and diverse audience in the beautiful setting of L’Espace des neuf soeurs (please see conference programme). This former bank and present-day community arts centre is located in the heart of Point Saint-Charles, a neighbourhood just south of the downtown core of Montreal, bordered by railway tracks and the Lachine Canal. This Beaux-Arts building, also the home of architectural professor and author, Pieter Sijpkes, is itself a very evocative theatre of memory and thus provided the perfect spatial framing for the students’ presentations. Out of these papers, a selection of longer essays is presented on this site for public interest and enjoyment, as well as the reference to one essay that will be published in a scholarly journal (please see interactive map). Overall, the aim of Palimpsest II is to provide concrete examples of architectural history that approaches the social and cultural meanings of the built environment, and witnesses the often fleeting but always significant occupations of urban space.

Dr. Cynthia Hammond []
Department of Art History, Concordia University



Palimpsest I \ Palimpsest II \ Palimpsest III