The Aldred Building
Architects: Barott & Blackader
MAHC Award: Commercial heritage (2002)
When the Barott & Blackader firm of architects built the Aldred Building, between 1929 and 1931, they faced an enormous challenge: integrating a modern building amidst buildings covering three centuries of history and architecture, which required the demolition of several existing structures, including the Provincial Bank of Canada and the Granger et Frères bookstore.
The construction of the 23-storey, grey stone and granite building was commissioned by the Aldred and Co. Limited financial firm, of which John Edward Aldred was president, and by the Shawinigan Water and Power electricity company. The building’s tenants included insurance companies, legal firms, a bank, and telegraph offices. Aldred and Co. Limited occupied the 17th and 18th floors. In 1941, the Prudential Insurance Company of America bought the building, and in 1960 ownership passed to La Prévoyance insurance company.
The Aldred Building was in a way born of the modification of construction bylaws allowing taller, setbacked, New York-inspired buildings. It was designed by the architects Barott and Blackader. At the time of its construction it was one of the most imposing office buildings in Montreal. Located at the south-east corner of stately Place d’Armes square, in the heart of the city’s financial district, and close to the courthouses, it is a typical example of Art Deco-inspired skyscrapers.
Resolutely modern, the 318-foot tall building has a steel frame and reinforced concrete floors. At the time it was built, the Aldred was furnished with six automatic elevators, telephone conduits in the floors, and the most advanced electrical and mechanical systems.
The façades are articulated with Indiana limestone vertical buttresses, broken by setbacks at the eighth, thirteenth, and sixteenth floors. The building’s dominant verticality is underscored by the distribution of the windows, the aluminum spandrels, and the extension of the buttresses beyond the edge of the horizontal setbacks. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this 23-storey structure symbolized modernity, even as it integrated into a built environment made up of numerous older buildings.
Apart from its wedding-cake volumes, note the geometric and vegetable motifs and the non-historicist bas-reliefs decorating the building. In the entrance hall, a frieze depicting swallows perched on telegraph wires is a handsome example of design motifs characteristic of the period. Both outside and inside, the ironwork, the detailing, and the stained glass panels amplify the same stylistic elements, creating a coherent unity. The resulting impression is one of rich and amazingly complex sobriety.
Reference: Ville de Montréal, grand répertoire Inventaire, fiche bâtiment.