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Annmarie Adams on Ernest Cormier

16 December, 2020

This annotation is an extract from Annmarie Adams (1991) review ‘Ernest Cormier and the Universite de Montréal, Design Book Review, No. 22, 1991, 30-32

By most accounts, Ernest Cormier and the Université de Montréal was a superb exhibition. Exploring the prolific career of one of Canada’s most important 20th century architects, the show occupied the main galleries of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montréal from May to October, 1990. Much more than a record of his major buildings – the best known are the University of Montréal (1924-43), the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa (1937-44), and his own house in Montréal (1930-31) – the exhibition lent real insight into Cormier the man; the requisite architectural sketches, presentation drawings, watercolours, and models were augmented by the architect’s drawing and book-binding equipment, the sign hanging outside his Montréal office, volumes from his personal library, and photographs of the architect’s friends and colleagues, exploring far beyond Cormier’s public life as ‘Architecte et Ingénieur’.

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition, edited by Isabelle Gournay, has a much narrower view of Cormier. Six brief essays explore the aesthetic, social, cultural, and political contexts of a single commission: the University of Montréal. The catalogue is lavishly illustrated with material drawn from the Fonds Cormier, the extensive archive that also supplied most of the material for the exhibition. It was acquired by the CCA from Cormier’s widow following his death in 1980. The series of contemporary colour photographs of the University of Montréal by Gabor Szilasi, commissioned by the CCA to complement the historical material and the focus of a smaller, simultaneous exhibition, is also included in the catalogue. The interpretation of Cormier’s career by focusing on a single project is not un reasonable. The commission for the new University of Montréal was enormous, occupying Cormier for nearly two decades. A vast ensemble of Ohio-brick pavilions arranged symmetrically about a grand axis, it is located on a conspicuous and prestigious site in Montréal on the north slope of Mount Royal, for which the city is named. Its construction in 1928 marked years of reform in French Catholic higher education in Québec. Its ‘modernity’ and carefully-orchestrated attitude to the tradition of American campus planning and to the city of Montréal was intended to express the independence and conviction of French intellectual interests in what was then Canada’s largest city.

Annmarie Adams on Ernest Cormier

This annotation is an extract from Annmarie Adams (1991) review ‘Ernest Cormier and the Universite de Montréal’, Design Book Review, No. 22, 1991, 30-32