Track 2: Materials over Time: Points of Change

General Abstract

Montreal Customs Building – Two Wings, Two Experiments in Construction

Tuesday, September 25
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC- 101BG

The Montreal Customs Building is an eight-floor Beaux Arts-style building taking up a complete city block in Montreal, Quebec. Built over two phases in 1912-16 and 1934-36, the building possesses a highly uniform façade of Stanstead granite and Wallace sandstone based on the original 1912 design by E.L. Horwood for both wings. The consistency of the façades nonetheless conceals heterogeneous structural systems and exterior wall assemblies, illustrating the early twentieth-century period of experiments in construction as steel and concrete structures gradually replaced load-bearing masonry in institutional buildings.
To illustrate that evolution in construction methods, this presentation focuses on the full-height projecting corner bays (avant-corps). It will compare the observed assemblies and deteriorations of both wings as well as the proposed remedial strategies.
The original 1912 wing is a hybrid building with a steel structure. Structural elements along the building perimeter are typically embedded in the brick backing of the stone-clad exterior walls. However, at the projecting corners, the wall thickness significantly increases to 2.2 meters (7 feet), forming eight floor-high load-bearing masonry components, mostly unsupported by the structural steel grid. Exploratory openings revealed that the brick backing is an alveolar assembly presenting numerous horizontal cavities, likely a deliberate attempt to reduce loads and costs during the original construction. The stone cladding presents large joints and significant deformation. These deteriorations are progressing despite past stabilization efforts to tie the cladding to the backing. Analysis demonstrated that the deformation may be the result of inherent vices such as the height of unsupported masonry, stone shapes, insufficient anchoring, and freeze-thaw sensitive interface between the backing and cladding.
The 1934 wing is a hybrid building with a concrete structure. Wall assemblies tend to be relatively thin compared to the 1912 wing. Most of the inherent vices observed at the 1912 corner bays were corrected in 1934. Nevertheless, the projecting corners of the 1934 wing present, to a lesser degree, deteriorations similar to those of the original wing. Exploratory openings revealed that, on most floors, the concrete structure is not tied to the corner masonry, leaving it unsupported over four to five-floor heights. Although this condition may not fully explain observed deteriorations, this issue has to be addressed as it does not meet current regulations, nor did it follow standard practices at the time of construction.
Remedial strategies were developed to improve the performance of the projecting corners of both wings and mitigate inherent vices, with low structural impact on adjacent areas that have performed well over time. Although the corner bays of both wings have a similar appearance and similar types of deteriorations, remedial actions differ significantly.

Learning Objectives:

Lena Buchinger, OAQ, APT

EVOQ architecture inc.

Lena Buchinger joined Montreal-based preservation firm EVOQ architecture in 2006. As a preservation architect, she has developed an extensive knowledge of traditional and early 20th century construction techniques and materials, particularly masonry, by participating in numerous building envelope assessments and envelope rehabilitation projects. She is skilled in analyzing and developing solutions that build consensus among multiple stakeholders.
Lena is very active in the preservation community. She sits on Montreal’s South-West Borough Advisory Planning Committee (CCU du Sud-Ouest) and is an active member of APT’s Quebec Chapter since 2014. As such, she was involved in planning training events for APT Quebec.


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Eric Therrien, OIQ

WSP Canada

Éric Therrien joined WSP in 2004 as a site supervisor and acts as a structural engineer since 2008. He has an extensive experience in concrete and masonry structures, mostly on heritage buildings.


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Frances Gale

University of Texas at Austin

Frances Gale is an architectural conservator with a Master of Science in historic preservation from Columbia University and over thirty-year’s experience in preserving historic buildings and monuments. Fran was a Senior Lecturer and Conservation Scientist at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture for 11years. Other positions have included Architectural Conservator and Training Director for the National Park Service and Director of Technical Services for AMT Laboratories and Prosoco, Inc. Fran’s recent consulting projects include Union Terminal in Cincinnati, the University of Virginia Rotunda, Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in New York, and the Matagorda Island Lighthouse in Texas. Fran was elected to the Association for Preservation Technology International College of Fellows in 2010 and became a Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works in 2017.


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Montreal Customs Building – Two Wings, Two Experiments in Construction

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