Joie de Tree
Nicholas Tamarin -- Interior Design, 3/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but an entire forest grows in Montreal—and it's a shade of hot pink found on some of the most fashionable kissers in the world. Sprouting from the ground floor of the newly renovated and expanded Palais des congrès de Montreal convention center, landscape architect Claude Cormier's Lipstick Forest, a grove of arboreal sculptures, proves that indoor vegetation need not recycle carbon dioxide to refresh the senses.
The installation is part of a two-year, $240 million renovation of the center by a consortium of three firms, AEdifica, Les Architectes Tétreault Parent Languedoc et Associés, and Saia Barbarese Topouzanov Architectes. Cormier's forest complements the dazzling curtain wall of aluminum and multicolored glass, by SBTA coprincipal Mario Saia, on the ground floor's southern end. This translucent Rubik's Cube–like wall bridges the gap between historic Old Montreal, downtown, and a new international business district, and sets the stage for Cormier's forest.
The 330,000-square-foot facility, which comprises four levels of exhibition, banquet, and meeting spaces, is connected to 4,000 hotel rooms and the city's subway system via the world's largest indoor pedestrian network. Originally SBTA asked Cormier, a longtime collaborator and principal of his namesake firm, to design an interior garden with a fountain for the public areas. But they scrapped that plan when they realized that building over two highways and a metro line prevented them from installing the requisite mechanical systems. "The link between the center's architecture and the installation is excellent. If it hadn't been, we would have never been able to do pink trees for conventioneers," says Cormier.
Located on the northern end of the massive ground floor, the 52 trees stand clustered in an 11,000-square-foot area, sandwiched between a steel-framed glass facade and an interior walkway for maximum exposure. The silver maples that line Montreal's Avenue du Parc and Mont-Royal inspired the shape of the sculptures. Cormier's abstract version eliminated leaves and branches, perhaps to reinforce the notion that the Lipstick Forest is a winter garden. He chose the fluorescent-pigmented pink after poring over 100 shades of lipstick at the Chanel and MAC cosmetic counters in the local Holt Renfrew department store. "When you spend two days in a convention center, there is a kind of sickness from being indoors," he says. "You need something to brighten up your perceptions."
Le Groupe Aquanov Canada, a firm known for constructing artificial environments, spent six months fabricating the 15-foot-tall trees off-site. Hand-sculpted of pulverized cement over wire mesh, the trunks are coated with several layers of glossy epoxy paint. Each sculpture hovers 4 inches above the floor, mounted to it via a steel pin.
The forest is a "response to today's malls, environments that are totally built up and not contextual but that pretend they are natural," says Cormier. "Ours is artificial but not fake."