A stand­out among Du­luth St. restos

Maybe too much – city may or­der owner to de­mol­ish $ 50,000 fa­cade

Montreal Gazette - - Life - JEFF HEIN­RICH THE GAZETTE

Eye­sore or work of art? Bet­ter make up your mind quick, be­cause the new fa­cade of the Khy­ber Pass restau­rant might not be there for long.

It was built without a per­mit, the owner has been fined, and the City of Montreal could or­der it torn down be­cause it clashes with the more tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture around it.

Erected this sum­mer, the all-cedar fa­cade def­i­nitely makes the Afghan eatery stand out on the pop­u­lar strip of restau­rants on Du­luth St. E. in the Plateau Mont Royal, be­tween Berri and St. Hu­bert Sts.

Amid the sim­ple brick fa­cades with clas­sic wood frame win­dows of its neigh­bours, the Khy­ber Pass is a jum­ble of wooden an­gles in­spired by the ar­chi­tec­ture of Afghanista­n.

“We get peo­ple stop­ping all the time now to take pho­tos – min­i­mum 30 a day,” Faruk Ramisch said. “Every­one says, “Wow, what beau­ti­ful work!”

Sami Akrout, 38, the sculp­tor and painter who de­signed and made the fa­cade with his own hands, pro­posed his bois dansant (danc­ing wood) idea to the restau­rant’s owner last spring. Ramisch leapt at the chance to give a rad­i­cal facelift to the eatery he’s owned since 1998. What Akrout calls the or­ganic lines and or­ganic ma­te­ri­als of the west­ern red cedar re­minded Ramisch of the ar­chi­tec­ture of Nuris­tan prov­ince, in his na­tive Afghanista­n.

“All the build­ings are made of wood there – it’s part of our his­tory,” said Ramisch, 56.

By con­trast, “Du­luth St. has be­come a sad place – it looks di­lap­i­dated,” he added. “It both­ered me, and I told my­self I had to do some­thing to draw more peo­ple here.”

Akrout sim­ply likes work­ing with cedar.

“This is an ad­ven­ture, mak­ing or­ganic ar­chi­tec­ture in an ur­ban zone,” said Akrout.

Trained in ar­chi­tec­ture in his na­tive Tu­nisia but not li­censed in Que­bec, he set­tled here in 1998 af­ter a spell in Whistler, B.C., where he learned mod­ern tim­ber­frame constructi­on.

“I’ve al­ways tried to make things that have hu­man move­ment, like sculp­ture; I try to make ar­chi­tec­ture anatomic; I try to make it move – that’s what I’ve done here,” Akrout said, run­ning his palm along one of the un­du­lat­ing fa­cade’s “fem­i­nine” curves, as he de­scribes them.

“It’s the aes­thetic that guides me; af­ter that, I find the tech­nique that makes it pos­si­ble”

The tech­nique in­volves wood – lots of it.

“Cedar is what high-qual­ity fences and decks are made of,” Akrout said. “It’s what the most chic mo­tor boats in the world are made of. It’s mag­nif­i­cent, it’s durable, it dis­in­fects the air. And it’s a lot cheaper than alu­minum.”

He got the cedar from Home De­pot and Rona, choos­ing each plank in­di­vid­u­ally. At home, he soaked the planks in his swim­ming pool to make them mal­leable, then trans­ported them to the side­walk in front of the restau­rant. There, he cut them into 800 pieces, fit­ting them to ply­wood over the brick fa­cade with hun­dreds of $1 cop­per bolts. He added slices of white cedar as trim and fin­ished ev­ery­thing with a home­made var­nish.

The fa­cade took five months to build and cost $50,000.

An anony­mous com­plaint brought a Plateau build­ing in­spec­tor in June af­ter constructi­on had be­gun. The ab­sence of a per­mit brought a fine of $560. The owner was or­dered to ap­ply for a per­mit, which he fi­nally did in Octo- ber, af­ter the work had been com­pleted.

The ap­pli­ca­tion is now be­ing stud­ied by the bor­ough’s con­sul­ta­tive com­mit­tee on ur­ban­ism. “We might get to a point where we say, ‘Take it all down,’ ” said Michel Tan­guay, spokesper­son for the Plateau bor­ough. “The prob­lem is sim­ple: The owner trans­formed his fa­cade without a per­mit. There are other ways of dis­tin­guish­ing your­self.”

Ramisch pleaded ig­no­rance of the law. “It’s my build­ing; I own it. I didn’t know I needed a per­mit for the fa­cade, hon­estly. When the in­spec­tors came, even be­fore they saw our plan, they said we only had a 10-per-cent chance of get­ting it ac­cepted.

“They told me it was an is­sue of the ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage of the street. I said, ‘What her­itage?’ The old build­ings around here are fall­ing apart – is that the kind of her­itage you’re pro­tect­ing?’ We should get a prize for hav­ing the best fa­cade in Montreal.”

Akrout said he has no prob­lem with her­itage – as long as it’s nat­u­ral. “I re­spect the her­itage of this coun­try in the build­ing ma­te­rial I use: wood.”

That’s fine, Tan­guay said, but the pair should have gone to the city first. “You can stand out from the crowd. But you have to be care­ful.

“The Plateau has a ca­chet, and we’re los­ing it to constructi­on that’s been done any which way,” he said. “Can we find a com­pro­mise that gives a dif­fer­ent, ex­otic touch to this restau­rant, while in­te­grat­ing it into the streetscap­e of Du­luth? I hope so.”

jhein­rich@ thegazette.canwest.com

MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER THE GAZETTE

Sami Akrout (left) de­signed the fa­cade for Faruk Ramisch, owner of the Khy­ber Pass restau­rant on Du­luth St. E.

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