September 5, 2013

Exhibit explores architectural technology, prison spaces

BY STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican

---- — MONTREAL — There’s a new tool to complement the architectural drafting table.

The Canadian Centre for Architecture presents two current exhibitions: “Archaeology of the Digital” and “H-Block.” Blueprints, architectural models, photographs and some unique artifacts abound.

“Archaeology of the Digital” nostalgically explores a late 1980s and early 1990s time line when a new creative tool was introduced to the architect — the computer. The exhibit delves into four architectural works in particular: the Lewis Residence by Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman’s unrealized Biocentrum, Chuck Hoberman’s Expanding Sphere, and Shoei Yoh’s roof structures made for the Odawara and Galaxy Toyama gymnasiums.

Frank Gehry’s Lewis Residence model offers a typical look at the iconic architect’s thought process: Crumple up a piece of paper, toss it on the floor, give it a quick computer scan, and design an abstract building around it. The 22,000-square-foot house slated for Ohio looks akin to a luxury home for the Flintstones. The building never made it past the design stage.

One example on display of Shoei Yoh’s gymnasium rooftop structures offers subtly quiet metal waves on an open grid. It could double as rectangular spaghetti strainer in a pinch.

Then, Chuck Hoberman’s Expanding Sphere and Iris Dome installation prototypes evoke what may have made a successful retractable roof for the Olympic Stadium. With the push of a button, the pieces inhale and exhale to full capacity.

The exhibit explores the advent of mass-computer use with some primitive-looking but advanced technology of the day. On hand is a fun display of early AutoCAD 2-D and 3-D design software; how-to books on BASIC and Fortran; and an original Apple Macintosh computer made in 1984, which boasts a whopping 128K of power. A vintage fax machine is also on display.

“Archaeology of the Digital” continues through Thursday, Oct. 3.


Next, photographs highlight the architectural concept of the H-Block, a popular housing design built in an H-shaped pattern. But just who lived in these structures all depends on where you were.

The intimate Octagonal Gallery space offers a look at housing “The Troubles” with “H-Block Prison Housing: Donovan Wylie.” 

Wylie photographed the infamous Maze Prison in Northern Ireland near Belfast that was opened by the British government in 1971 to house inmates arrested during the turbulent time that became known as “The Troubles.” Maze Prison was specifically “designed to keep apart warring loyalist and republican paramilitaries,” according to a press release. 

Wylie photographed much of the work from a prisoner’s point of view while the building was mostly intact and again upon returning after 2007, when the prison was partially demolished.

Wylie will be on hand for a discussion at the official exhibition opening at 7:30 p.m. Friday. 

The building design is once more explored in the museum’s Hall Cases exhibit space with “H-Block Social Housing: Ilse Bing.”

Bing, dubbed in the press release as “Queen of the Leica,” photographed modern Bauhaus-style German buildings during the 1920s and 1930s. 

Of particular subject interest to Bing was the Budge Foundation Old People’s Home, which was located in Frankfurt. The edifice contained 106 units complete with glass-partitioned terraces, which made for a photographic essay of architectural perspective and lines.

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Archaeology of the Digital" and "H-Block." WHERE: The Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 Baile St., downtown Montreal (Metro station Guy-Concordia). WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; until 9 p.m. Thursdays. ADMISSION: $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and free for students and children. Admission is also free all Thursday evenings after 5:30. CONTACT: Call (514) 939-7026, or visit