Every so often, Elsy designers have the opportunity to travel with manufacturers to experience their factory/showrooms to gain a better understanding of their company, products and capabilities.

I recently joined Visual Interest, a Colorado-based lighting manufacturer’s representative firm, on a visit to Montreal, Canada to experience Axis Lighting, a family-owned and operated factory that focuses on cutting-edge architectural LED light fixtures.

The weekend started with an all-day educational session where we learned about the precision, efficiency, and high-tech features of Axis Lighting’s products, capped off with a factory tour to see firsthand how it all comes together.

The most impressive part of the tour for me was how many people were working on the floor! This is definitely still a people-powered operation. The craftsmanship and attention to detail were evident everywhere you turned – from the handmade LED diode boards to the minimalist approach to packaging.

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying Old Town Montreal, an area that is rich in history and architecture. I always believe that the best way to truly experience a city is on foot (preferably in comfortable shoes!), so we set out to explore the city on a walking tour. Montreal is a city with considerable French colonial history dating back to the 16th century. It began as a missionary settlement, but soon became a fur-trading center. Montreal’s location on the St. Lawrence River proved to be a major advantage in the city’s development as a transportation, manufacturing, and financial center.

Like most old cities, Montreal is built around a building of worship. In this case, it’s the impressive Notre-Dame Basilica. We had the opportunity on our visit to enjoy an immersive light and sound show that highlighted the impressive all-wood construction inspired by the Gothic Revival Architectural movement. The motifs painted on the ceiling and columns were just as impressive as the stained-glass windows and 7,000-pipe organ!

Another unique opportunity I had was touring the Habitat 67 property that was originally built for the 1967 World’s Fair. Montreal was chosen as the host city after Russia backed out. This created an opportunity for architect Moshe Safdie, who was just 24 years old at the time. He was called in to help master plan the project, but with some creative persuasion, he was able to design a permanent structure based off his master’s thesis project. This project aimed to redefine the design of multifamily housing, which at the time primarily consisted of tall skyscrapers with little connection to people or nature.

Built on a man-made peninsula, the project consists of 600-square-foot modules pieced together like LEGO bricks and cantilevered in various directions to give tenants individual views of Montreal and the St. Lawrence River. Seeing this project up close and learning more about the progressive concepts Moshe Safdie was considering so far ahead of their time was an experience I will never forget. Habitat 67 is still a functioning multi-family property filled with private residences and a community that is quite proud of the story behind their unique building.

To top the educational and inspiring weekend off, the group enjoyed dinner and fireworks along the St. Lawrence River. All in all, this was a memorable and inspiring experience and I’m grateful to the folks at Visual Interest and Axis Lighting for creating this learning opportunity!