Canada is better known for its winters, not its beaches, but a new collaborative development in Montreal could change that. Each summer weekend, city dwellers flock to the banks of the St. Lawrence River for high design and a playful, but sincerely socially-engaged tropical beach experience, free for all to enjoy.
Now in its third year, the Village au Pied-du-Courant is designed by 16 teams of architects and artists but is developed collaboratively as a shared public space that sustains the city’s art and creative scenes. Separated from the river by freight tracks and wedged between a busy thoroughfare, the artificial beach is open through September and attracts visitors of all ages.
Les cerfs-volants (kites) by Machine – Design Appliqué. (Jean-Michael Seminaro / Image via Facebook page of Village au Pied-du-Courant)
On a recent visit, children were happily flinging sand and scrambling over the pyramidal L’Oasis de Las Verduras (green oasis), by local firm Cultures Associées, as parents watched from blankets on the sand. After a few tropical cocktails from the on-site bar, some beachgoers were taking naps in fabric hammocks suspended from the installations. Rows of cerfs-volants (kites), constructed of woven plastic beach chair material by Machine Design Appliqué, provided pockets of shade to solitary magazine readers on the otherwise treeless site. Twenty-somethings, slushy mixed drinks in hand, activated a giant fan with foot pedals attached to a beached boat in shooting distance of a rousing game of pétanque (a French version of bocce).
Ambient house music floated from le gazebo f(ê)te, designed by local architects Amélie Ricard and Shanie Jalbert-Bossé, setting the festive atmosphere. An angular stage, constructed from interlocking plywood at a modest budget of around $2,500, exemplifies the ad-hoc elegance of the beach. Framed by the massive Jacques-Cartier Bridge in the distance, the platform hosts a slatted DJ booth and is surrounded by potted palms.
Across the sandy court sits a small museum, constructed of aqua plywood slats with an entrance of bisected circles, that details the history of Village au Pied-du-Courant through citizen-contributed photographs and ephemera. Designed by Table Architecture, one wing is devoted to the Village’s library, which contains thematically relevant books on participatory art, the construction of public spaces, and local history curated by LAAT, a nonprofit that distributes literature on the arts, geography, and architecture.
Next door in FÉLIX & CO’s bureau mobile (mobile office), where workers can charge their electronics and upload photos of the Village to social media. (The organizers have a weekly Instagram contest where the best photos tagged #piedducourant are featured on the Village’s Facebook page.) If you’re stuck at your desk reading this, search the tag for a vicarious trip to the beach.