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Found 10 results

  1. Finally the huge crappy industrial building on the southeast side of Jarry and Viau is either going down or it'll be part of a large redevelopment!! The block is completely fenced in and the walls are being stripped and all the insides are being gutted..Let's hope for the first 20+ storey tower for the east end...the project belongs to the very deep pocketed Saputo clan and their associates.
  2. http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/travel/36-hours-in-quebec-city.html Hmm... might take a little trip to Quebec for the weekend. Seeing I haven't been in over a decade.
  3. A cautionary tale: Cheap glass window wall is not suitable for our climate http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2011/11/13/tor-glass-walled-condos.html Thermal Window Failure: How it Happens A Developer's Change of Heart Engineering Buildings to Perform Audio and Video Highlights Many of the glass condominium towers filling up the Toronto skyline will fail 15 to 25 years after they’re built, perhaps even earlier, and will need retrofits costing millions of dollars, say some industry experts. Buyers drawn to glass-walled condos because of the price and spectacular views may soon find themselves grappling with major problems including: Insulation failures. Water leaks. Skyrocketing energy and maintenance costs. Declining resale potential. Glass condominiums — known in the industry as window walls — have floor-to-ceiling glass, so essentially the window becomes the wall. Window walls generally span from the top of the concrete slab right to the bottom. The slow-motion failure of Toronto's glass condos http://www.cbc.ca/toronto/features/condos/ Over the past decade, Toronto's building boom has been dominated by tall glass condo towers. They've transformed the look of city skylines all over the world – especially here in Toronto, where according to Emporis.comwe've built more towers per capita than any other city in North America. But it may be a trend that puts style over substance. A small but growing chorus is sounding the alarm about the future of these buildings. Building scientists have known for a long time that glass-walled structures are less energy efficient than the stone and concrete buildings that were put up forty of fifty years ago. But the market demand for glass combined with the relatively low cost of glass-wall construction means the building industry has been happy to oblige. However, industry insiders warn that as energy costs climb, glass towers may become the "pariah" buildings of the future. In these stories, we explore the hidden costs of building with glass and the slow-motion failure of window walls. We also look at why the Ontario Building Code failed to make energy performance a priority, and meet a developer who is reconsidering the construction of such buildings. Building science consultant and University of Waterloo professor John Straube wrote a paper called Can Highly Glazed Building Facades be Green? View Paper [1MB .pdf] http://www.cbc.ca/toronto/features/condos/pdf/condo_conundrum.pdf John Straube John Straube, a building science consultant and professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo says glass condos are a "perfect reflection" of a society that's found it easier to throw things away than to build them to last. "We have a hard time," says Straube, "thinking five years when we buy a laptop, ten years when we buy a car. With these buildings – both the skin and the mechanical systems are going to have to be redone in a 25-year time frame. The concrete structure will be there a long time but in 20, 25 years time, we are going to see a lot of scaffolding on the outside of the buildings as we replace the glazing, sealants and the glass itself." Although falling glass from the condo balconies has attracted most of the public attention during the summer of 2011, building scientists warn that the long-term failure of the glass structures – although less sensational – is much more serious. More: how thermal window failure happens Window-wall systems Most of them are built using window-wall systems which have next to no insulation value, except for a half inch of heavy gas between the two panels of glass. As John Straube points out, what glass does really well is conduct heat. "A little experiment anyone can do at home is get a glass for drinking. Pour boiling water into it, and try and pick it up. You'll burn yourself." Straube, along with building science colleagues like Ted Kesik at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto, warns that as energy costs climb, the costs of heating and cooling glass towers will increase the monthly fees. Kesik wrote a paper called The Glass Condo Conundrum (250KB .pdf) on the potential liabilities of glass towers. The Glass Condo Conundrum It's not just the energy costs. Glass structures require major maintenance much earlier in their life cycle than a traditional structure made of precast or brick. Straube warns maintenance costs will skyrocket in 20 to 25 years' time as the buildings age. The windows will begin to fog up, and the cost of replacing entire walls of glass will be prohibitive on highrise structures that can only be accessed from swing stages. Building scientists talk about the life cycle of a building, akin to a human life cycle, language that encourages people like Straube to see a building as an organism. "It has lungs," says Straube, "it has veins, all of that stuff – it has a structural skeleton." To Straube, a building is a living, breathing thing, enclosing the people who live inside. Building with glass walls is to miss the main point of a building, says Straube – sacrificing the protection that is a building's first duty for a beauty that is only skin-deep. "It's almost derogatory in my world," says Straube, "to forget about everything else that's part of experiencing a building. I like to think what is this building going to be like on a dark and stormy night. In our climate particularly, we care about that. It's life and death." Audio Introduction Matt Galloway spoke with Mary Wiens about the series. Listen (runs 6:11) Part One Mary Wiens introduces us to people concerned about the hidden costs of glass walls. Listen (runs 6:48) Part Two A developer of glass towers tells us why he will never put up another one. Listen (runs 6:28) Part Three Mary Wiens asks engineers about the rise, and repair, of the glass towers. Listen (runs 6:38) Part Four Mary Wiens tours a new condominium with a young couple and their real estate agent. Listen (runs 6:50) Part Five Mary Wiens tells us about a solution that has helped produce more efficient cars and appliances, an approach that may have potential for condominiums as well. Listen (runs 6:59) Video Part One: How glass fails John Lancaster talks to David House about the potential problems facing owners of glass condos in Toronto. Watch (runs 3:16) Part Two: Hidden costs Kamela and Jason Hurlbut are looking for their first dream home but there are hidden costs to living in Toronto's glass condos. Watch (runs 3:19) Part Three: The ripple effect If I can't sell my condo, I can't buy your home. John Lancaster looks at the possible ripple effect in Toronto's real estate market. Watch (runs 3:48)
  4. January 20, 2009 ARCHITECTURE REVIEW | COPENHAGEN CONCERT HALL For Intimate Music, the Boldest of Designs By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF COPENHAGEN — It’s usually considered an insult to say that an architect designs pretty packages, let alone that he borrows ideas from a dead genius. But Jean Nouvel should be forgiven for resurrecting old ghosts. His Copenhagen Concert Hall, which opened here on Saturday evening, is a loving tribute to Hans Scharoun’s 1963 Berlin Philharmonie, whose cascading balconies made it one of the most beloved concert halls of the postwar era. And Mr. Nouvel has encased his homage in one of the most gorgeous buildings I have recently seen: a towering bright blue cube enveloped in seductive images. It’s a powerful example of how to mine historical memory without stifling the creative imagination. And it offers proof, if any more were needed, that we are in the midst of a glorious period in concert hall design. Like Frank Gehry’s 2003 Disney Hall in Los Angeles and Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie, now under construction in Hamburg, Germany, Mr. Nouvel’s new hall demonstrates that an intimate musical experience and boldly imaginative architecture need not be in conflict — they can actually reinforce each other. The Copenhagen Concert Hall has the ugliest setting of the three. In a new residential and commercial district on the outskirts of the old inner city, it is flanked by boring glass residential and office blocks. Elevated train tracks running to the old city swing right by the building; swaths of undeveloped land with tufts of grass and mounds of dirt extend to the south. Approached along the main road from the historic city, the hall’s cobalt blue exterior has a temporal, ghostly quality. Its translucent fabric skin is stretched over a structural frame of steel beams and tension cables that resembles scaffolding. During the day you can see figures moving about inside, as well as the vague outline of the performance space, its curved form embedded in a matrix of foyers and offices. It is in darkness that the building comes fully to life. A montage of video images is projected across the cube’s fabric surface at night, transforming it into an enormous light box. Drifting across the cube’s surfaces, the images range from concert performers and their instruments to fragments of form and color. This is the intoxicating medium of late-capitalist culture. You can easily imagine boxes of detergent or adult chat-line numbers finding their way into the mix. Yet what makes this more than an advertising gimmick is the contrast between the disorienting ethereality of the images and the Platonic purity of the cube. For decades architects have strived to create ever more fluid spaces, designing ramped floors and curved walls to meld the inner life of a building with the street life around it. The ideal is a world where boundaries between inside and out vanish. Yet Mr. Nouvel’s box is more self-contained and arguably less naïve: its solid form, bathed in tantalizing images, is in stark opposition to the sterile desolation around it. That impression grows once you enter the building, where more projected images blend with real, living people coursing through it. To reach the main performance space, concertgoers can either ride up escalators directly in front of the main entrance or turn to climb a broad staircase. Just to the left of those stairs are elevators that shoot up to the lobby and upper-level foyers, whose ceilings are decorated in fragmented, overlapping panels. As video images wash over the panels, the pictures break apart so that you perceive them only in fragments, like reflections in broken glass. More images stream across the walls. The effect is a mounting intensity that verges on the psychedelic. None of this would be effective, however, without Mr. Nouvel’s keen understanding of architecture’s most basic elements, including a feel for scale and materials. The towering proportions of the lobbies, for example, seem to propel you up through the building. When you reach the upper foyers, you feel the weight of the main performance space pressing down on you. At the same time, views open up from the corners of the building to the outside world. It’s as if you were hovering in some strange interstitial zone, between the banal urban scenery outside and the focused atmosphere of a concert. This complex layering of social spaces brings to mind the labyrinthine quarters of an Arab souk as much as it does a high-tech information network. That’s largely because Mr. Nouvel’s materials put you at ease: elevator shafts and staircases are clad in plywood, giving many of the spaces the raw, unpretentious aura of a construction site. The building’s concrete surfaces are wrinkled in appearance, like an elephant’s skin, but when you touch them, they feel as smooth as polished marble. By contrast, the main performance hall wraps you in a world of luxury. Like Scharoun’s cherished hall, Mr. Nouvel’s is organized in a vineyard pattern, with seats stepping down toward the stage on all sides in a series of cantilevered balconies. The pattern allows you to gaze over the stage at other concertgoers, creating a communal ambience. Because the balconies are stepped asymmetrically, you never feel that you are planted amid monotonous rows of identical spectators. Yet Mr. Nouvel’s version is smaller and more tightly focused than Mr. Scharoun’s. The balcony walls are canted, so that they seem to be pitching toward the stage. A small rectangular balcony designed for the queen of Denmark and her immediate family hovers over one side of the hall, breaking down the scale. The entire room was fashioned from layers of hardwood, which gives it an unusual warmth and solidity, as if it had been carved out of a single block. The result is a beautifully resilient emotional sanctuary: a little corner of utopia in a world where walls are collapsing. And it underscores what makes Mr. Nouvel such an ideal architect for today. Though he is a deft practitioner of contemporary technology, his ideas are rooted in the historical notion of the city as a place of intellectual exchange. His best buildings hark back beyond the abstract orderliness of Modernism and neo-Classicism to a more intuitive — and human — time. Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company Privacy Policy Search Corrections RSS First Look Help Contact Us Work for Us Site Map
  5. Developer floats alternate proposals for a $900 million tower project on Boston’s waterfront It’s not the best economic climate for building office space. But Don Chiofaro, a Boston-based developer seems unfazed. He is moving fast and furious to get approvals for a 1.5 million sq ft mixed -use project for Boston’s waterfront, betting the market will change by the time the project goes into construction. In January he proposed a two-tower scheme for the site, a prime location between the New England Aquarium and the City’s new Greenway. But when that scheme was met with little enthusiasm, Chiofaro unveiled yet another design last week, this three-tower scheme designed by New York architect Kohn Pederson Fox. While this scheme is reportedly the developer's favorite, he has an arsenal of ten different designs that he is prepared to launch on the public until one sticks. The current scheme, which has been likened to a "matched set of furniture" by Boston architecture critic Robert Campbell, features three tall slender glass towers framed with terra cotta walls. Pederson told the Boston Globe that the intent was to create a high rise that made sense in Boston, a city that has an architectural pedigree of brick townhouses and warehouses. “In both types you have long masonry bearing walls at both sides with large openings in the front and rear” said Pederson. The two "bookend" towers will be occupied while the middle tower is intended as sculpture and has no program. One tower will hold a 200-300 room hotel topped by approximately 120 condos. The second one will contain 850,000 sq ft of office space. The lower floors of the entire complex will contain 70,000 sq ft of retail space. Sharon McHugh US Correspondent http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=11108
  6. 36 Hours in Montreal MAKE no mistake: visiting Montreal is not like going to Paris. True, the brooding facades and crooked streets of Old Montreal feel distinctly European, and yes, the locals take their French seriously. But don’t confuse this cosmopolitan Canadian port city for a fusty, Old World wannabe. Freshened up by a wave of trendy new hotels, shops and restaurants, Montreal sings its own tune — and it sounds more like Arcade Fire, the homegrown indie band, than La Marseillaise. With the city’s debilitating 1990’s recession behind it—and the specter of Québécois secession all but forgotten — a lively patchwork of gleaming skyscrapers, bohemian enclaves and high-gloss hideaways now outshines the city’s gritty industrial past. Given the weak American dollar (off about 9 percent against the Canadian dollar over the last two years), Montreal is not the bargain it used to be. But it’s still cheaper than Paris. And a lot closer. Friday 4 p.m. 1) DODGING MIMES Start in Old Montreal, and ignore the Wish-You-Were-Here postcards, skyline refrigerator magnets and street performers that clog the eastern end of Rue Saint-Paul, the area’s main drag. Instead, focus on the gas-lamped streets lined with rustic limestone buildings: this is the Montreal of romance. While you’re exploring, do a little shopping at Appartement 51 (51, rue Saint-Paul Ouest, 514-223-7648; http://www.apt51.com), a boudoirlike boutique filled with jewelry, stylish parlor furniture and crocodile bags, and Reborn (231, rue Saint-Paul Ouest, 514-499-8549; http://www.reborn.ws), another new shop that sells très chic labels like Bless, Preen and Alexandre Herchcovitch. 8 p.m. 2) FIELD AND STREAM The food is just one excuse to find out why everyone is talking about Le Club Chasse et Pêche (423, rue Saint-Claude; 514-861-1112; http://www.leclubchasseetpeche.com). Behind this young boîte’s unmarked door — save for an enigmatic coat of arms — the fashion flock joins forces with local tycoons and ladies in pearl necklaces in a cavernous interior that might be described as a Gothic-minimalist hunting lodge. Just as tantalizing are the Kurobata risotto appetizer (15 Canadian, or about $13 with $1 equaling 1.16 Canadian dollars) and lobster tail with sweetbreads (30 Canadian dollars). Saturday 9 a.m. 3) ARCHITECTURE ON WHEELS Time to work off last night’s dinner. Head to the Old Port and rent a bicycle at Montreal on Wheels (27, rue de la Commune Est, 877-866-0633; http://www.caroulemontreal.com; 7.50 Canadian dollars an hour). Follow the waterfront to the Lachine Canal, a former industrial corridor transformed into a well-manicured park. One of the last great world’s fairs was Montreal’s Expo 67. Hold onto your handlebars because you’re about to whiz past its most spectacular icons: Habitat 67 (2600, avenue Pierre-Dupuy; 514-866-5971; http://www.habitat67.com) and the Biosphère (160, chemin Tour-de-l’Isle, Île Sainte-Hélène; 514-283-5000; http://www.biosphere.ec.gc.ca). Habitat, designed by the architect Moshe Safdie, was an exhilarating experiment in modular housing: it looks like an enormous pile of building blocks. Across the Concorde Bridge, on the Île Sainte-Hélène, is the equally sensational Biosphere. Built as the American Pavilion for Expo 67, it houses a museum of hydrology, though the star attraction is the geodesic dome. Allow two to three hours for the entire excursion. 1 p.m. 4) A MILE OF HIPSTERS Follow the hipsters to the Mile-End neighborhood, and bite into a Montreal bagel — it’s a less doughy, but equally delicious, cousin to its New York counterpart. One of the best, with lox and cream cheese (4.79 Canadian dollars), can be found at Fairmount Bagel (74, rue Fairmount Ouest; 514-272-0667; http://www.fairmountbagel.com). This hole-in-the-wall has been churning them out from its wood-burning oven since 1919, an act of baking that becomes almost performance art when practiced by the quick-wristed chefs. Nearby, discover the well-heeled boutiques and restaurants of the Avenue Laurier, and then turn north onto the Boulevard Saint-Laurent, where the vibe becomes a bit more on the edge. In recent years, Mile-End has become a hotbed for Montreal’s young creative types, and the vanguard shops have followed. Make sure to visit Commissaires (5226, boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-274-4888), a gallery of experimental furniture and design, and browse the deconstructed frocks of the local it-boy Denis Gagnon (5392A, boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-272-1719; http://www.denisgagnon.ca). Most stores close at 5 p.m. on Saturdays. 7:30 p.m. 5) FORGET PARIS Who needs the Left Bank when you can have L’Express (3927, rue Saint-Denis; 514-845-5333). With crimson walls and checkerboard floors, this bistro-style institution in the fashionable Plateau neighborhood is a longstanding favorite among, well, pretty much everyone. One bite of the steak frites (20.75 Canadian dollars) or croque monsieur (9.10 Canadian dollars), and you’ll be a convert. 9:30 p.m. 6) POPCORN AND HEGEL Hollywood loves to film in Montreal, but you won’t find any Tinseltown blockbusters at the Ex-Centris theater (3536, boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-847-2206; http://www.ex-centris.com; admission is 10 Canadian dollars), a futuristic temple to independent film where the ticket agents appear on video screens as disembodied heads (think Max Headroom). If you feel like talking Hegel, join the bespectacled cineastes who pontificate in the dimly lighted cafe. 11:30 p.m. 7) IS THAT CELINE DION? Ready to rock out? Continue north to Casa del Popolo (4873, boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-284-0122; http://www.casadelpopolo.com), a vegetarian cafe that moonlights as an epicenter of Montreal’s thriving indie music scene. (Come earlier to hear the bands play, or just hang out afterwards at the bar.) Or, if you’re feeling lazy, Ex-Centris shares the block with several stomping grounds for the designer-label crowd. Start out at Globe (3455, boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-284-3823; http://www.restaurantglobe.com) or Buonanotte (3518, boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-848-0644; http://www.buonanotte.com), where scantily clad waitresses squeeze past dinner plates autographed by George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and other celebrity patrons. Many Montrealers dismiss these venues as overheated feeding grounds for fashion victims and their star-gawking friends. But, heck, you’re on vacation. Sunday 11 a.m. 8) PAIN COUTURE Nurse your hangover at Café Holt (1300, rue Sherbrooke Ouest; 514-282-3750), but don’t forget your sunglasses. Set within the venerable Holt Renfrew department store, its interior is bright and airy with glass walls. Order the bread pudding served warm with peaches and chocolate (8 Canadian dollars), or the poached eggs and smoked salmon (16 Canadian dollars) — both using bread flown in from the Poilâne bakery of Paris. 12 p.m. 9) MUSéE OR MUSEUM? Ah yes, culture. A block from Café Holt, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal (1379-80, rue Sherbrooke Ouest; 514-285-2000; http://www.mmfa.qc.ca; admission is free for the permanent collection, 15 Canadian dollars for special exhibitions) has a strong collection of modern design, Old Masters and contemporary Canadian artists, including Jeff Wall and Ken Lum. A 10-minute walk away is the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920, rue Baile; 514-939-7026; http://www.cca.qc.ca; admission is 10 Canadian dollars). This pre-eminent institution, which holds regular exhibitions on architecture and urbanism, was founded by Phyllis Lambert, the Seagram heiress best known for landing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe the commission to design the Seagram Building in New York City. Housed in a 19th-century mansion with a modern stone addition, it’s a striking contrast of old and new—much like Montreal itself. The Basics From New York, travel time to Montreal is about one hour by air, seven hours by car. Round-trip fares from LaGuardia Airport this month start at about $153 on United. The Montreal-Trudeau International Airport is just a 20 minute cab ride from downtown. Taxis within the city center generally run from 7 Canadian dollars (about $6 at with $1 equaling 1.16 Canadian dollars) to 15 Canadian dollars, but the subway is also excellent. Stay in grand style at the 61-room Hôtel Le Saint-James (355, rue Saint-Jacques; 514-841-3111; http://www.hotellestjames.com) in Old Montreal. It’s only four years old, but you wouldn’t know it. Occupying a former bank building from 1870, it’s dripping in heavy curtains, dark-paneled walls and gilt chandeliers. Enjoy afternoon tea or predinner cocktails in the elegant atrium. Rooms start at 400 Canadian dollars. It’s not the city’s newest boutique property, but the Hôtel Gault in Old Montreal (449, rue Sainte-Hélène; 866-904-1616; http://www.hotelgault.com) is arguably the most sophisticated, with hushed concrete walls and off-white floors, lightly dusted with mid-20th-century furniture. The 30 rooms are similarly spartan and spacious. Rates start at 199 Canadian dollars; 235 Canadian dollars in summer. Le Petit Prince in downtown Montreal (1384, avenue Overdale; 877-938-9750; http://www.montrealbandb.com) is a bed-and-breakfast that excels on both counts. Its six color-themed rooms are souped-up with Wi-Fi, flatscreen televisions, boat-size whirlpool tubs and, in some cases, a terrace. The young staff is attentive and makes a mean breakfast. Rates start at 150 to 250 Canadian dollars. http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/travel/22hours.html
  7. Old Damascus is quite unique, it is enclosed by very high walls and it can only be accessed by very few doors ( i believe 7 of them). Streets are never wider than the width of two cars, and most of them are unmapped and wide enough for one person to pass. Old Damascus is composed of a good sized Christian Minority, and you can find packed Churches on Sundays and other Holidays. Old Damascus is the heart of the oldest still inhabited city in the world, Damascus goes back to over 4000 years before Christ. So I'm not going to spoil any surprises, check the pics and some commentaries... i tried to be as concise as possible, but if you do have questions, just ask. If you haven't checked the first part: Going to Old Damascus There's no detached houses in Damascus, its all 3-4-5 stories with no elevator. Thats why you don't see many fat Syrians :-) The almighty Minister of Finance... aka Mafia. My host in his '78 Mercedes annoyed by my too many pics... he hasn't seen nothing yet. The usual 3 lanes become 6 lanes traffic in Syria. More fountains... Notice the fruits on the left, that guy makes amazing fresh pressed juice... I was always having one too... 25sp or 50 cents. That's the most important commercial street in Damascus, the mazout deliverer and his horse perfectly blend. The almighty Commercial Bank of Syria... the biggest fiasco I've ever witnessed in my life... it takes maybe 5 or 6 signatures to cash in a regular cheque (45 minutes)... to bad I couldn't take any pics inside. A roundabout, very common. Another common sight... ok maybe not, a fellah wit his lamb :-) A vestige of old railroad tracks. Thats a movie theatre... look at those sexy women. BTW, going to the movies in Syria is seen as a bad thing by the masses. A viaduc. Thats the old central station. Good luck in getting in. Can't remember what was that building. Thats the telegraph and communication central... if you want a phone line, you go there. (the waiting list for a phone line was so long that we got it nearly 10 years after we already moved to Canada) Market (Souq) al-Hamidiyya and Roman ruins So we wanted to visit Al Hamidiyya, unique I confess, and encolsed in Old Damascus. These are the walls of Old Damascus. Thats the new part of the markt... not intresting. That guy on the left doesn't seem to like being taken in a picture :-) Here we are... it is encolsed by roof. This is the prime spot of the Sook (which spans on many many blocks). Secondary streets where the sook spans.
  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/greathomesanddestinations/03gh-househunting-1.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1299593719-+xlaQH3kS13uLe9aveRW4A
  9. The tallest of them all (in 1888) Little Giant It had electric lights, an elevator and mail chute where you could drop letters from any floor. More impressive, the New York Life Insurance Building at 511 Place d'Armes was Montreal's first skyscraper - at eight storeys high MARIAN SCOTT, The Gazette Published: 6 hours ago From the top floor of Montreal's first skyscraper, you can see ... Well, not much, to tell the truth. Crane your neck from the eighth floor of 511 Place d'Armes and you can make out the statue of Montreal founder Paul Chomedey sieur de Maisonneuve in the square, and the roof of the Vieux Séminaire, adjoining Notre Dame Basilica. But back in 1888, oh my! Eight storeys high was a dizzying height, indeed. The New York Life Insurance Building boasted the latest in modern conveniences. Electric lights! An elevator! And a mail chute where you could drop letters from any floor! Impressed? Perhaps not, but back in the gaslight era, these were state-of-the-art innovations. The New York Life had its own generator to provide power to the offices. Imagine a city where the only tall structures were church spires. Just the twin towers of Notre Dame soared higher than the clock tower that sits atop the New York Life. Rising to 40 metres, its facade of red sandstone - imported all the way from Dumfriesshire, Scotland - made a splash against the grey limestone buildings of Old Montreal. The arched doorway and upper windows evoke the Italian Renaissance. "Look, even the smallest detail is decorated," says Madeleine Forget, admiring the carved entrance, with its intricate wrought-iron grille. Forget is an architectural historian who wrote a history of the city's early high-rises (Les Gratte-ciel de Montréal, Éditions du Méridien, 1990). Sculptor Henri Beaumont created the intricate carvings of urns, garlands and masks in the doorway. When the New York Life was built, from 1887 to 1889, architects were just starting to figure out the secrets of high-rise construction. The first ingredient was the elevator. In 1852, Elisha Graves Otis invented the safety brake for elevators. He installed the world's first passenger lift in a New York department store in 1857. The second ingredient was steel. Traditionally, the walls of a building supported the structure. The taller the building, the thicker the walls needed to be. The walls of Chicago's 17-storey Monadnock Building, completed in 1893, are two metres thick at ground level. Steel-frame construction allowed buildings to reach for the sky. A steel skeleton supported the structure, with the exterior walls hanging from it, like curtains. Chicago's 11-storey Home Insurance Building, constructed in 1885, was the first to use this construction method. Montreal would have to wait until 1895 for its first steel-frame building, the Canada Life Assurance on St. Jacques St. Designed by New York architects Babb, Cook & Willard, the New York Life has supporting masonry walls and steel floors. "The New York Life Building," wrote a visitor, "is one of the most imposing in the City." Its construction ushered in Montreal's "office era," noted the late Gazette history columnist Edgar Andrew Collard. The lantern in the entrance is original, as are the beige marble walls and mosaic floor. The hall boasts a coffered ceiling and staircase with an elegant, filigreed banister. Inside, the building is surprisingly modest in scale. Grand lobbies with hordes of scurrying office workers would come later in the history of office buildings, Forget says. "It looks bigger (from the outside) than it is," says Guylaine Villeneuve, director of operations for the building. The New York Life Co. had its Canadian head office on the fourth floor and a library on the eighth. The other floors were rented out. The Quebec Bank, whose name is carved over the entrance, occupied the ground floor. It bought the building in 1909 and was absorbed into the Royal Bank in 1917. For 12 years, only three eight-storey buildings - the New York Life, Canada Life and Telegraph Chambers Buildings - would rise above the skyline. After 1900, 11-storey buildings began to dot the cityscape. In the 1920s, office buildings with towers set back from the street appeared. One is the art-deco Aldred Building next door to the New York Life. Last year, owner Bechara Helal built two penthouse apartments on the roof, one of which he occupies, Villeneuve says. Tourists sometimes stop to read the brass plaque identifying the building as Montreal's first skyscraper, but few come in, she says. Today, the New York Life barely rates a glance among the soaring structures cluttering the skyline. But what it lacks in stature, it gains in well-bred elegance. Dwarfed by modern high-rises, the building preserves a memory of the era when eight storeys was a dazzling height. [email protected] http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=199c1c3e-af3b-4bcf-a949-9b8f88c5c671