The Montreal Holocaust Museum launches a design competition for its new home

A Move to the Main

The Montreal Holocaust Museum launches a design competition for its new home

(Courtesy Montreal Holocaust Museum)

The Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM), established in 1979 by Holocaust survivors and younger members of Montreal’s Jewish community as Canada’s first museum dedicated to telling the story of the Holocaust, has launched an international architecture competition for a new building that will rise on a recently secured site on Saint Laurent Boulevard in the heart of the city’s historic Jewish quarter.

Qualified teams have until January 28, 2022, to submit their design proposals as part of the two-stage competition.

“The museum aims to achieve the highest level of architectural excellence, to make a lasting impression on the landscape of Saint-Laurent Boulevard, to connect with new audiences, and to create a significant impact on present and future generations,” reads a release from the museum announcing the competition. The new location is anticipated to open in 2025, allowing a “new generation of visitors from around the world to discover the history of the Holocaust, the resilient stories of survivors who rebuilt their lives in Montreal, and the importance of respecting human rights.”

The MHM is currently located on the ground floor of Maison Cummings, an office building in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough that is home to Federation CJA and other Jewish organizations including the Jewish Public Library and Agence Ometz. The MHM has been seeking out a new, purpose-built standalone home for several years now that would allow the institution to expand its permanent and temporary exhibition areas and bolster its public programming and educational offerings. Following a false start last year, it was confirmed this October that the museum had purchased a long-vacant 20,000-square-foot plot of land—now a surface parking lot—at 3535 Saint Laurent Boulevard, just north of Sherbrooke Avenue. Last month’s acquisition marked a giant leap forward for the long-awaited project, prompting the formal competition launch.

As reported last month by The Canadian Jewish News, the anticipated total cost of the new museum is roughly $63 million ($80 million Canadian) with an estimated construction budget of just under $22 million, per the competition overview. The Quebec government has pledged roughly $16 million while the museum has already secured nearly $25 million in private donations. A major fundraising campaign to secure additional support will begin in winter 2022.

While the MHM’s current home off the main lobby at Maison Cummings has served it well, the location is off the beaten path for most casual museum-goers visiting Montreal; the new location is in a considerably more central location near Montreal’s bustling arts and cultural district, Quartier des Spectacles.

The future location of the Montreal Holocaust Museum at 3535 Saint Laurent Boulevard. (Courtesy Google Maps)

“It gives us the presence and visibility we have long dreamed of,” MHM president Richard Schnurbach told The Canadian Jewish News. The MHM anticipates the new museum will attract an estimated 70,000 annual visitors.

The stretch of Saint Laurent Boulevard where the new museum will be built is, as mentioned, the historic main drag for Montreal’s Jewish community and as detailed in the competition brief, a street “rich in history and has significant symbolic and heritage importance for the Jewish community and for the Francophone, Anglophone, and all immigrant communities. It is a symbol of cultural diversity, a space of artistic and technological creativity and laboratory of ideas.”

As elaborated in the competition overview, the new museum building, which is aiming for LEED Silver Certification, must “fit into the site and assert its presence in a contemporary and sensitive manner, taking into account the historical and symbolic aspects related to Saint- Laurent Boulevard and the existing buildings on the site” while also taking advantage of “the effervescence and diversity of Saint- Laurent Boulevard to create a platform open to encounters and exchanges through accessible and convivial public spaces.”

Per The Canadian Jewish News, key features of the museum are set to include 10,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space, 3,500 square feet of temporary exhibition space, a 150-seat auditorium, commemorative space, an educational wing with state-of-the-art classrooms, a cafe, shop, and an outdoor garden.

While there are several eligibility requirements for competition entrants, chief among them is that at least one architectural firm either established in Quebec or having an office in Quebec must be part of the proposal-submitting design team.

As mentioned, the submission deadline is January 28. A total of four shortlisted proposals will be selected by the competition jury in early spring. Later next spring, the finalists will assemble larger multidisciplinary teams including structural engineers and landscape architects. Following that, in the final paid stage of the competition, the finalists will “further develop their concepts […] guided by the jury’s comments, they will create architectural solutions and develop the project in an interdisciplinary manner.”

The nine-person competition jury includes, among others, Daniel Amar, executive director of the Montreal Holocaust Museum; Giovanna Borasi, director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture; Eva Kuper, an educator and Holocaust survivor who serves as a member of the MHM board of directors; Izabel Amaral, an architect and director of the School of Architecture, Université de Montréal, and Sophie Robitaille, a landscape architect and urban designer with the Montreal-based RobitailleCurtis.

AN will report back when a winning team and proposal are announced next year.