Giant twisting tree-like sculptures have sprouted in downtown Montreal—and passersby are welcome to climb to the top of its gnarled canopy. The striking art installation is the latest work of local artist Michel de Broin, who was invited by the City of Montreal to help activate the recently developed International Civil Aviation Organization Plaza (ICAO). Dubbed Dendrites after the branched projections of a neuron, the large-scale artworks are clad in weathering steel and are equipped with metal stairs with platforms for an interactive element.
Spanning both sides of Notre-Dame Street in downtown Montreal, Dendrites comprises two sculptural stairways that mimic the form of trees and neuron structures. The reddish hue of its weathering steel cladding is a reference to ochre tree trunks as well as the urban site’s industrial past and iron infrastructure.
“Dendrites encourages climbing through a network of alternate possible routes,” explains the project press release. “When a passer-by ascends the stairs they consistently face a bifurcation, and a decision must ensue. An apt metaphor is found in the way thoughts are formed in the human brain through the transmission of electrical impulses within a larger network of neuronal dendrites; much like the climber in the sculpture discovering the structures of his surrounding environment. From one end of the work to the other — like a neural impulse traveling across the brain — the walker climbs the stairs and ventures into the sculpture, emerging on the other side with a new perspective.”
The emphasis of walking ties into the redevelopment of site, which was formerly a car-centric area that was displaced as a new pedestrian-friendly and cyclist-friendly space. Dendrites’ twisting branches culminate in a series of independent viewing platforms of varying heights, allowing multiple visitors to climb and enjoy the sculpture simultaneously.
Images by Michel de Broin and Jules Beauchamp Desbiens