Claude Cormier is a Canadian landscape architect who intervenes in cities with a precise intent: to create beauty
A notion of landscape far from the romantic idea of nature, the awareness that every intervention of landscape architecture, even in its most naturalistic expressions, makes nature an artifice: this awareness of Claude Cormier, landscape architect and urban designer, is certainly attributable to his childhood spent on a farm in Quebec, in Princeville, in constant and direct contact with nature.
It is therefore clear why Cormier, who studied history and theory of design at Harvard University, landscape architecture at the University of Toronto and, before that, agronomy at the University of Guelph in Canada, is ‘bored’ by the landscape as a more or less faithful reproduction of the nature that surrounds us. Instead, he always seeks new stimuli, for example by bringing historical references to projects. All without nostalgia and never as a simple copy of the past but as an express desire to create a positive environment where people can feel good. A goal to be achieved with beauty, a sense of humour and, why not, a pinch of kitsch.
It is no coincidence that Cormier cites Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of landscape architecture in America and author of Central Park in New York, and Martha Schwarz, an American landscape architect and artist with great interests in cities, communities and the urban landscape, as his references. Olmsted, because he was the first to underline the importance of urban public greenery as a ‘green lung’, where the landscape, however mediated and depicting the image of nature, in practice a ‘tableau’, still becomes a caring element in the city. Schwartz instead opened his eyes with her proposals for a landscape infused with completely different look, at the intersection of architecture and land art.
Since 1994, the year in which Claude Cormier + Associés was founded in Montreal, Cormier’s work has followed the idea that the cultural is sometimes a much more real subject than its natural counterpart, because even urban space and how it is experienced depend to a large extent on our perception, on the image it evokes in us.
For this reason his proposals are colourful, bold, out of the box, with a marked sense of humour, and to pursue his idea he has no qualms about drawing on the narrative of kitsch because the characteristics of kitsch, “a strong iconographic idea, a sense of irony and playfulness of spirit together with a stubborn will to perform the work, can lead to a creative and original architecture” (note: from ArchitectureQuébec 139, May 2007)
All of this flows into a modus operandi that Cormier himself defines as “Serious Fun”, the title of a lecture given in 2018 at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design of the University of Toronto and a book to be published in 2020 written by Marc Treib and Susan Herrington.
Among his most iconic works that have most impressed the public imagination are ‘18 Shades of Gay’ in Montreal. The project was born, as part of the Aires Libres initiative, from the development of ‘Pink Balls’, an installation of 170,000 resin balls in four shades of pink hanging above SainteCatherine Street East, a street initially of dubious fame, transforming it from 2011 to 2016 into a pedestrian area much loved by the public. As simple as it may seem, this project, says Cormier, has cost him a lot of effort, from logistics to discussions with the administration, and he didn’t want to repeat it again in the same form.
Thus, for the 2017 edition of Aires Libres, Pink Balls was transformed into a pastelcoloured walk, inspired by the rainbow flag of the LGBTQI+ community, precisely ‘18 Shades of Gay’. A succession of six main colours, each in three distinct shades for a total of 180,000 balls of recycled plastic to form an experience of 18 shades of colour suspended above the street. The result: an uninterrupted one-kilometre-long rainbow ribbon, vibrant by