Originally designed by IM Pei and Henry N Cobb, the new Esplanade Place Ville Marie (PVM) in the heart of downtown Montreal is designed by Sid Lee Architecture and executed in collaboration with Menkès Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes. The project raises this modern public square to the stature worthy of a world metropolis.
Restoration of vision
The new esplanade evokes a sense of nostalgia, a return to the source, reflecting Sid Lee Architecture’s desire to reaffirm the importance of the public square, while staying true to the objectives and guidelines of the concept.
“We wanted to propose a refreshed vision for the esplanade – one which preserved some of the natural elements from its last transformation, while restoring its original formal qualities and minerality,” explains Jean Pelland, architect and principal partner at Sid Lee Architecture.
A return to function
The last redevelopment, which was done in the 1980s, gave the esplanade the appearance of a large garden. Now the firm returned to the space’s primary function and aesthetics, drawing its influences from modernist principles such as the infinite grid and the free flow of the urban platform. The approach and final concept were presented to the original designer, Henry N Cobb, who expressed enthusiasm for this new vision.
“The esplanade revitalisation has been thoughtfully conceived and brilliantly imagined. This work will greatly enhance Place Ville Marie’s contribution to the civic life of Montreal, fulfilling the promise of our original vision and thereby making me enormously happy,” said Henry Cobb, head architect of Place Ville Marie.
Uniform materiality brings together public areas and buildings. The choice of materials and the arrangement of forms reaffirm the idea of a universal layout, a foundational concept of Place Ville Marie.
Making the esplanade visually and physically accessible guided every aspect of the redevelopment. Pelland explains that the primary objective was to preserve spatial continuity, while multiplying opportunities to create places of socialisation.
Based on this principle of continuity, the approach was founded on the pre-existing idea of an oversized slab on which buildings are simply placed. This layout delivers open spaces that are conducive to hosting events and the occasional transformation for new public activation programmes.
Opening the esplanade
The architectural response implemented connects an emblematic downtown Montreal space more than ever to urban life – through the reconfiguration of its connection to the underground network, the modernisation of its shopping mall and the renovation of the entrance halls.
“Now linked to the central axis of McGill College Avenue by a monumental staircase, the Esplanade PVM opens up a remarkable view on Mount Royal,” says Yves Dagenais, architect and senior partner at Menkès Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes.
This staircase, including an embedded access ramp, creates a direct link between the street and the raised public space. The large entrance to the underground parking lot, previously used for vehicular crossings, was moved aside to welcome foot traffic.
Once punctuated by four modest skylights, the esplanade now boasts one of the largest horizontal glass structures in North America. This impressive, seemingly floating structure provides direct access to the four-season Cathcart Restaurants & Biergarten in the heart of the underground gallery.
“The extraordinary 16-feet-high glass pavilion is supported by 18 glass beams. It not only houses the food court, but also beautifully blurs the boundaries between the inside and outside, contributing to the life of the public square,” adds Dagenais.
The public square now offers a direct visual and physical connection to Mount Royal through the McGill College axis. This connection is enhanced by the Ring, a monumental installation by CCxA, which frames the emblematic view. The renewed Esplanade PVM is a refreshed version of what it once was – now easier to navigate, socialise in and enjoy.