Most Montrealers have heard the name Phyllis Lambert in one respect or another. She is one of our more famous citizens. The sculptor/architect is much more than just an artist (not that it isn’t enough) as she is an activist as well. All about her art career and activism can be learnt in the 48 short minutes of this Manuel Foglia documentary.
Born in Montreal as part of the Bronfman family in 1927. She was educated at the private school The Study and then went on to university at Vassar College. Her father was Samuel Bronfman, who ran the Seagram’s company. The family is incredibly wealthy and powerful involved in alcohol, real estate, chemical, oil, and gas.
As a young person she began to show an interest and talent in sculpture. From a young age she took classes and produced pieces. In 1954 she moved to New York to study architecture. She has worked in Chicago, New York and Montreal. Lambert (her married name after a short marriage to Jean Lambert, a French-German economist) then designed the Saidye Bronfman Centre, restoration of Los Angeles’s famous Biltmore Hotel, TD Centre in Toronto, and the Seagram Building in New York City amongst others. Awarded many honorary degrees and awards, including being made part of the Order of Canada, her career branched out into activism. Putting her money where her mouth was Lambert put millions of her own money into the founding of the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
Realizing that a city’s architecture is an integral part of its story, Lambert began to fight against demolitions and fighting for affordable housing for the lower and middle classes. She believed that the city of Montreal should retain its history through its architecture and that everyone should be able to find somewhere to live. With this aim she founded Heritage Montreal in 1975. She fought to revitalize the Shaughnessy Village area and against other building projects that would tear down older buildings or obstruct views of the mountain.
She is now 90-years-old and still active. For 75 of those years she has been an important figure in this city. Despite the fact that she comes from wealth and has never had to worry about money her whole life, Lambert has fought for what is right throughout her life/career. Unwilling to bend and being a voice for us regular folk, she has battled to preserve the architectural history of Montreal and against projects that would have reduced the amount of affordable housing in the city.
This documentary largely allows the woman herself to tell her own story. Told through interviews with Phyllis Lambert, it swiftly and without too much emotion recounts what she has done as an architect and as a resident of Montreal. She believes that the buildings we all live in are part of our culture and to treat them as less than that would be a disservice. The belief is founded upon the idea that the buildings in a city tell a tale about the people living there – a sort of living history. Her brand of architecture is concerned with the built and natural worlds. A building within a city does not exist in a vacuum. It relates to all that is around it. As long as she draws a breath she will fight to protect the historical story of Montreal told through its architecture.