GREENPRINT: What led you to architecture?
Sophie Le Borgne: My grandfather was an architect. When I visited him at his home we would draw together. I was very inspired even through something as simple as his collection of pencils and fountain pens.
My grandmother was a painter. These examples, and the provision of their attention and expertises greatly fuelled my imagination.
I have always been interested in design, in general; but, especially enticed by architecture. Each project I embark on is important to me because it marks a definitive imprint, it impacts the relationship we have with our environment and our way of perceiving and inhabiting it. In fact, it is my own way of creating a legacy, and a sort of immortality. I think this is a thread that links many creative endeavours, and those behind them: Leaving something beautiful and useful behind
Amani Rizk: I have always been passionate about human relations, and the lubricant of object design. In order not to follow slavishly in the footsteps of my father, who is an architect, I decided to study Environmental Design in 1999.
My father’s legacy managed to catch up with me. While working on an architectural project for a museum, the passion was born, and I realized I simply could not escape the importance and impact of the discipline of architecture.
With this endeavour I can feed my passion for creativity, my fulfillment through management of complexity, and my æsthetic sensitivity.
The idea that I can take a hand in the creation of projects that are inspired, sustainable, and oriented towards the breadth of human experience stimulates me every day.
G: When, and what, led to the formation of Le BORGNE RIZK?
Le BORGNE RIZK: In 2018 we were two architects working in the same neighbourhood. We started informal collaborations, and eventually decided to join our talents and strengths and skills. It is much more enjoyable to work as a team, than alone. We’ve since grown the number and scale of the projects we’ve taken on, and we officially opened our offices in 2019. Today, with the confinement, we work remotely, and are very happy to be able to be in an efficient and well-oiled team, with familiarity and ease between us, which facilitates a highfunctioning team, even over teleworking platforms.
G: Why engage an architect for a residential project?
Le BORGNE RIZK: For a custom project that fits you, but also for a project that will mature in use, and in value, well over the years…
Hiring an architect is a concrete way to bring added value to a construction project. People also call on us to save time, and avoid opportunity costs, and actual costs, through preventable mistakes.
From project concept, to full realization, the architect makes sure that all parties work according to the overarching vision, established together with the client. Thanks to their global vision, the architect is the only professional who can offer complete follow-up at each step of the project. The recent law on architects, adopted in September, 2020, attributes to the architect several acts that are reserved to them in the exercise of their functions. By hiring an architect you ensure that he or she will respect a code of ethics, and that professional inspections will be carried out on the building. Architects must also follow a mandatory continuing education program, and carry professional liability insurance, in case of problems. Working with an architect is securing both vision, and peace of mind, for the full realization, and completion of a project.
G: Why work with Le BORGNE RIZK for your residential project?
Le BORGNE RIZK: Our clients work with us because they know they will have a positive experience with their architectural project. Because architecture is our home, and we live in it everyday.
We pay special attention to the evolving needs and desires of our residential clientèle; and, because of our complete engagement, we have the privilege of designing and building homes filled with meaning, function, identity, and value for our residential clients. Public and private buildings, or even schools, are connected in their communities, through our contribution, to these same values, to beautify our built environment, and lives broadly. It is, therefore, thanks to our training, our multidisciplinary practice, our creativity, and our commitment, that we are able to create sensitive, functional, and harmonious homes, firmly anchored in their context and communities. We are always concerned with participating in a sustainable, and integrated environment, through homes, and more public-facing projects, as holistic and interacting projects.
G: In which neighbourhood do you each live?
Sophie Le Borgne: We both live in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
I can speak for us both when I say we feel that this is an exceptional neighbourhood to raise a family. We each have two children. The quality of the parks, and the quality of schools, make this neighbourhood a dream place for a Montréal family. Monkland Street has it all.
G: In which neighbourhood is your office located?
Le BORGNE RIZK: Our offices are in Saint-Henri, because it allows us to be close to our clients. It’s a very dynamic neighbourhood, with a lot going on. Also, it keeps us in walking distance of our respective homes, and wired intimately into the character of the place every day.
We’re in the RCA, a historic 1908 industrial building, which became the epicentre for creative minds, with a basis formed by the former RCA Victor Records factory, where a rich history includes influences from many musical pioneers. The building now hosts creative endeavours and events such as SOUK MTL, an annual market of Montréal’s designers and creators.
G: Two women architects in a predominantly male universe: What are the advantages, and the challenges?
Le BORGNE RIZK: The advantages we see in this is that, more and more of late, women are contacting us to define and express their architectural projects. This would not have been the case, say, in the ‘fifties.
It is a cinch for us to understand the needs in their daily lives, the organizational and spatial logistics in their homes, with children, and with lifestyle and professional balances. Today women are more in control of their destinies. They take charge of their environments. Their homes are theirs, and they do not hesitate to entrust us with their projects.
Our vision includes a certain flexibility, and reflects our family-focused approaches. In this sense, we have also set up a games and toys corner in the office, to welcome our clients with their children.
I think that’s how much things have changed for the better. We would not have imagined this type of “installation” in an architecture firm, even as recently as the early ‘aughts. When I entered the job market, I had no reference or model of a female boss as a partner in a firm, and a mother of several children. Today, I know that it is possible to raise children, own a business, and manage employees. Sure, you have to juggle a little, but nothing is “impossible” anymore. Who would have thought that networking with clients could now be done pushing a stroller, instead of pulling a golf bag?
Of course, construction is still a man’s world. Fortunately, changes are on the horizon, and women are slowly but surely entering the field!
G: What types of projects do you specialize in?
Le BORGNE RIZK: We started with residential projects, but we are increasingly working on commercial and institutional projects, including Place des Arts.
G: How does architecture contribute to developing, and defining, the identity of our city’s neighbourhoods and communities?
Le BORGNE RIZK: A neighbourhood is not simply a group of individuals who come into contact with each other by force of circumstance. A neighbourhood comes to life through patterns, connections, conflicts, and politics; shaped and facilitated by architecture. As an architect, we have to provide gathering places to contribute to the identity of a neighbourhood. These spaces are something communicating with, but other than those spaces randomly provided by, say, the sidewalk.
Public squares have reasons for being, and they have their personalities. This is what we created in the Heritage Empress project, on Sherbrooke, in NDG. With the creation of a public market, within a park, in front of the old Empress Theatre, we’ve created a distinct public space, to facilitate a new conversation among neighbours.
G: Which emerging trends in architecture inspire you, and which could you do without?
Le BORGNE RIZK: Currently we are seeing new trends inspired by free forms or abstracts. Projects that integrate green plants in houses, on walls. Earth tones, sustainable materials. Ceramics with creamy colours are in.
Interior barn wood wall coverings need to go!
G: Does the current pandemic context cause you to rethink the work of the architect?
Le BORGNE RIZK: The pandemic is making us rethink everything: Our physical interactions, our working relationships, our meetings, our presentations, our use of paper, and our use of various tools. But, it is also pressing forward our vision for architecture. In our projects, we always try to put forward an evolving architecture: Adaptable spaces; and, today, more than ever, this approach is relevant… and necessary. A heightened sensitivity to healthy materials is also becoming more important. As architects, we shape the built environment, and we know today that it has a significant influence on our quality of life. As an aside, our work, our choices, and our advocacy even effects something as taken-for-granted as air quality. I believe that the pandemic has helped us, as a society, to understand the relevance of the architect’s work in popular consciousness, even in something as “simple” and important as the use of sustainable materials, and the durability and flexibility of projects.
G: What would you say about the architectural evolution of Montréal’s Sud-Ouest?
Sophie Le Borgne: The South-West has one of the highest development potentials in Montréal. Until recently, it was made up of vacant land, disused industrial buildings, and large development sites. The appearance of the giant, colourful hospital has encouraged interesting development of the area. The Turcot interchange reshaped the road “landscape”. Unlike other neighbourhoods, the South-West has developed very rapidly in recent years, due in part to the appearance of condos, particularly along the newly developed Lachine Canal. Some of these are in “good taste”, others, less so, leave room for future remaking of the neighbourhood. We like the neighbourhood a lot, especially because of its industrial heritage, and the fact that it holds a working class heritage.
Amani Rizk: It’s always fascinating to see a neighbourhood develop, reinvent itself, and watch how the interplay of the creativity of architects, artists, restaurateurs, and developers, expresses itself through the built environment. But, it is also a double-edged sword. New development, rapid and aggressive, does not take into account the needs of everyone, and the result is people left behind, and groups excluded. It is imperative to have a global, and inclusive, vision when developing a neighbourhood.
G: How does the work of Le BORGNE RIZK relate to the historic architecture of Montréal?
Le BORGNE RIZK: As much as possible, we try to preserve interesting heritage features of the projects we work on. This work manifests itself in many ways, through the repetition of original materials, by preserving the form of a building, or by preservation of certain of its spatial configurations. Sometimes cultural connotations or meanings also contribute to the heritage value of a place. Dialoguing with historic architecture is not simple, and is not limited to the juxtaposition of a new volume, to an old structure. To dialogue includes listening. Dialogue is to be impregnated, and to respond through output. This is exactly our approach when we rehabilitate a building. With our Heritage Empress project, for example, we play on the legacy of NDG’s Empress Theatre, and, yes, we dialogue with the existing structure by reinterpreting its relationship in the contemporary urban fabric. Perhaps a building is a button on a shirt. It must contrast, while matching. It must secure the fabric to itself. It also must allow for breath, and tailoring over the long life of a good garment.
G: Three beautiful examples of these buttons on the South-West?
Sophie Le Borgne: The Elää and Irène projects by Kanva are beautiful examples. As well, our own project on Notre-Dame Street.
G: Three beautiful examples of architecture in Montréal, more broadly?
Amani Rizk: The Michal and Renata Hornstein Peace Pavilion (MBAM), by Jodoin Lamarre Pratte.
This is a great example of a balanced dialogue between a modern addition, and an existing building. The urban insertion work is also extremely effective and striking. In this project, both the interiors, and the exterior, are delicate, rich, and deep; and, they invite contemplation, like the magnificent paintings housed within.
Habitat 67, by Jodoin Lamarre Pratte.
A historical monument extravagant in its modernity, in its aestheticism, and in its minimalism.
This building has been applauded around the world. A true emblem of Montréal housing.
The Darling Foundry, also by Jodoin Lamarre Pratte.
This is a spectacular example of the industrial architecture which elegantly defines certain sectors in Montréal.
The building’s massing is very imposing, and… massive; but, so delicate and seemingly fragile, at the same time. These proportions are strangely reassuring, and it’s rehabilitation perfectly enhances its structure. No small feat.