René Menkès (1932-2019)

Renowned Canadian architect, René Menkès, passed away on October 7th in Montréal, at the age of 87. A striking figure in modern, national, international and contemporary architecture, René Menkès was a respected and admired man. We owe him many masterful projects that are unquestionably part of Canada’s architectural heritage.

“I loved what I did, and I would do it again. Architecture is a rewarding profession,” said René Menkès, in a 1999 interview with Jim Donaldson.

In 1994, when he had already logged 25 years of prolific and exemplary architectural practice, René Menkès, still passionate about his profession, co-founded Menkès Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes. He brought his experience and knowledge, but above all, he instilled in the firm the importance of placing the human at the heart of every project, an essential aspect of his architectural practice.

A graduate of McGill University in 1955, René Menkès moved to New York where he worked from 1956 to 1960, to acquire knowledge and experience regarding the principles of high-rise construction. The one for whom architecture had presented itself as a natural course of study focused his practice entirely on the construction of high-rise buildings as an ideal to achieve. It was not about ambition or pride, it was about challenge, daring, working tirelessly, pushing the limits of his discipline.

Influenced by some of his teachers, including Gordon Webber and Arthur Lismer, and some of his classmates, like Dimitri Dimakopoulos, he practiced architecture with an innovative and bold approach.

When he returned to Montréal in 1961, he co-founded the architectural firm that would become one of the largest pan-Canadian firms which also had offices in several major US cities and in Shanghai: Webb Zerafa Menkès Housden Partnership (WZMH).

René Menkès has signed many important projects: the Royal Bank Plaza (Toronto), the Cartier, the Guy-Favreau Complex, the National Bank of Paris in Montréal and BNP in Paris, Cathedral Square (KPMG tower), the Scotia Tower, the McGill tower and many others.

One of the last projects he worked on as a master architect is the Schulich School of Music at his alma mater. Elsewhere in Canada, the cities of Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa, and Québec, among others, have also seen their urban landscape shaped by René Menkes: the Hilton and the Holiday Inn in Québec, Standard Life Building in Calgary, Lester B. Pearson in Ottawa and the London Convention Center.

Despite being a great architect, solicited around the world, René Menkès was always humble and above all, always recognized the value of teamwork. For him, a successful project is the result not only of good design, but also of close collaboration between architects, builders, contractors, engineers, developers, and many others. In addition to this fundamental belief in the strength of the team, René Menkès based his practice and professional relations on respect and ethics.

While he contributed to the built environment of several Canadian, American, European and Asian cities, he has also helped to promote the profession of architect as a respected and respectful profession. He relied on listening, sharing, collaboration, and intelligence to righteously and proudly practice architecture.

The office he occupied at the firm became a meeting room, respectfully and affectionately named Salle Menkes.

The partners and employees of Menkes Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes offer their most sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.

When he returned to Montréal in 1961, he co-founded the architectural firm that would become one of the largest pan-Canadian firms which also had offices in several major US cities and in Shanghai: Webb Zerafa Menkès Housden Partnership (WZMH).

— Text courtesy of Menkès Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes

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