Architects worldwide are being invited to design a new Montreal Holocaust Museum

This block on St. Laurent Boulevard, looking south, is the planned new home of the Montreal Holocaust Museum. The parking lot on the left has been purchased for its construction.

An international architectural competition has been launched by the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) for the design of its new building downtown, projected to open in 2025.

The MHM is looking for submissions that “creatively address the importance of Holocaust remembrance sites and the education of future generations about the dangers of hatred, antisemitism and racism.” The deadline is Jan. 28, 2022.

The MHM has been located since its founding in 1979 in the west end Côte des Neiges headquarters of Federation CJA, of which it is an agency. In 2018, the MHM made known its intention to relocate and expand in a more central area in the hope of attracting a wider audience and to provide more space for its increasing collection of artifacts, educational and public programming, and exhibitions.

A public fundraising campaign to build the new facility on St. Laurent Boulevard will kick off this winter. The estimated construction cost is $27.9 million. The MHM bought the land earlier this year.

The project’s overall goal is $80 million, including $15 million for an endowment fund to support the enlarged operations, said communications head Sarah Fogg.

The announcement of the competition states, “The mission of the MHM is to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about the Holocaust while sensitizing the public to the universal perils of antisemitism, racism, hate and indifference, as well as the importance of respect for diversity and the sanctity of human life.

“The MHM aims to achieve the highest level of architectural excellence, to make a lasting impression on the landscape of St. Laurent Boulevard, to connect with new audiences, and to create a significant impact on present and future generations.” Its leaders believe the new site, close to the Quartier des Spectacles, the city’s arts and entertainment hub, positions the MHM to reach many more and younger visitors.

The new MHM will also be near other museums and universities and, of symbolic significance, will be situated in what was once the Jewish immigrant neighbourhood. Historically, “the Main” was the boundary between English and French Montreal.

By focusing on the resilience of Holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives in Montreal and the importance of human rights, MHM leaders envision “a space to cultivate historical awareness and encourage citizen action to contribute to a more just and socially responsible world.”

Submissions to the competition are made anonymously. The jury, not knowing whom they are from, will select four finalists from among them. Then engineers and landscape architects will join these finalists to form multidisciplinary teams.

Fogg said architects can apply from anywhere in the world, but teams must partner with a Quebec firm.

These teams will further develop their ideas, guided by the jury’s comments, until a winner is named, which is expected to be in July, Fogg said.

The jurors are MHM executive director Daniel Amar; Izabel Amaral, director of the School of Architecture at the Université de Montréal; architect and McGill University lecturer Vedanta Balbahadur; Giovanna Borasi, director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture; Concordia University history professor Frank Chalk, founding co-director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies; architect Isabel Hérault of Paris; educator and survivor Eva Kuper, member of the MHM board of directors; Philippe Lupien, a professor in the School of Design at the Université du Québec à Montréal; and landscape architect and urban designer Sophie Robitaille.

The site at 3535 St. Laurent Blvd., north of Sherbrooke Street, has been vacant for more than 40 years and most recently used as a parking lot. It occupies nearly 1,860 square metres, with a frontage of 44 metres.

Prospective applicants are informed that, “The new museum 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 St. Laurent Boulevard…(and) take advantage of the effervescence and diversity of St. Laurent Boulevard to create a platform open to encounters and exchanges through accessible and convivial public spaces.”

The MHM is aiming for LEED Silver certification, that is, a high ranking on this scale of building sustainability.

Fogg underlined the uniqueness of the MHM in Canada.

“There are other Holocaust education centres across the country doing remarkable work,” she said. “We are the only accredited museum, and this accreditation is based on the International Council of Museums definition of a museum, which is recognized by the Canadian Museums Association and the Société des musées du Québec.

The accreditation is based on criteria like having a material collection of objects, conducting research, carrying out preservation work and producing exhibits.