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c/o Kanva Architects


Elää (Finnish, to live) is a 41-unit residential complex located at the entrance of the Verdun Borough, in Montreal. Similar to the urban fabric of the neighborhood, Elää creates an urban microcosom on the site by fragmenting the building into several volumes that are united by green spaces. 

Elää is an innovative project in many ways. The typology – a cluster of buildings with interspersed green space – is common in Scandinavian and European cities, but rarely found in Montreal. Closer to a house than a condo, it is a place where ownership is encouraged and where a sense of community is created through the juxtaposition of units and green spaces. [1]

4 floors are used rather than 3 to face the street, to avoid a large monotonous building: the block has been fragmented to allow generous sunshine, an architectural play on volumes and through housing. Around these smaller blocks, the atmosphere of a friendly and intimate alley is recreated thanks to a green interior courtyard, crossed by a community network offering individual access to each accommodation. This design ensures openness to the community, offering permeability between the public space and the interior of the project. This logic mitigates direct environmental pollution from the Atwater filtration plant and the Hydro-Québec transformer station and the large neighboring arteries.  

The exterior cladding also demonstrates its difference. Instead of brick, a harmonious alliance of three less-common materials is used: acrylic, a coating composed of cement, fiberglass and polystyrene, is a high-end coating, resistant while being demanding in its installation to avoid water-related problems. charred wood, locally-sourced cedar treated with fire using the traditional Japanese technique Shou Sugi Ban has aesthetic, environmental and fire resistance advantages. Finally, six green walls mounted on a cabling system are an integral part of the landscaping. [2]

Connecting the street and the courtyard, two roofed bicycle storage racks have secure space for one bike per condo. Compare that to only a total of ten underground parking spots for cars, much less than the borough first asked for (and one of many project-specific deviations from existing by-laws), to boost the use of active and public transit. The bike storage modules riff off Montreal’s traditional entrée-cochères, which once served as the entries for horse-drawn carriages from the street into courtyard stables. At Elää, the bicycle entryways also serve to enhance the project’s porosity, funnelling light and breezes into the communal area. The encouragement of low- and zero-carbon transportation, along with the use of exclusively native, drought-resistant plants; recyclable building materials; high-performance insulation; energy-efficient appliances; and hook-ups for solar panels that make the building net-zero-ready have garnered the project a LEED Platinum rating. [3]


Canadian Architect, Award of Excellence,  2016
Institut de développement urbain de Québec, Inova Award, 2017
Int. Design, Grand prix de Design, 2019


[1]      “PROJETS / PROJECTS.” KANVA. Accessed June 10, 2021. http://www.kanva.ca/projects#/elaa/.

[2]       Duchaine, Paola. “Elää, Projet Immobilier Durable à Verdun.” Écohabitation. Accessed June 10, 2021. https://www.ecohabitation.com/guides/1111/elaa-bien-vivre-bien-batir/.

[3]       Nerberg, Susan. “It Takes a Village: Elää, Montreal, Quebec.” Canadian Architect, May 2, 2019. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/it-takes-a-village-elaa-montreal-quebec/.

Additional information:

Beleck, William. “Yakisugi (Shou Sugi Ban) 80-Year Siding Longevity: Truth or Rubbish?” Nakamoto Forestry, January 12, 2021. https://nakamotoforestry.com/yakisugi-shou-sugi-ban-80-year-siding-longevity-truth-or-rubbish/.

Canadian Architect. “Elää.” Canadian Architect, June 21, 2019. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/elaa/.

District Atwater Inc. “Project ELAA: District Atwater.” District Atwater Inc. Accessed June 10, 2021. https://districtatwater.com/en/project/elaa.

“Elää: A Marriage of Urban Comforts and Efficiency: Blogue: Énergir.” Blogue | Énergir, June 1, 2017. https://www.energir.com/blogue/en/at-home/elaa-a-marriage-of-urban-comforts-and-efficiency/.

“Prix INOVA – Lauréats.” IDU. Accessed June 10, 2021. https://www.idu.quebec/fr/les-laureats.

Project Title: ELÄÄ 
Artists:  Kanva
Year: 2017

Place: Montréal, QC

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