Place Ville Marie, Montréal

An iconic business and social district get a unique facelift in Montréal

It’s been nearly 60 years since I.M. Pei and Henry N. Cobb designed the ever-popular business hub known as Place Ville Marie in Montréal. Best-known for its cruciform skyscraper and outdoor Esplanade, the site is also a key access point to the city’s underground network of businesses and transportation tunnels extending throughout the downtown core.

In 2017, current owners Ivanhoé Cambridge announced a $200-million revitalization of Place Ville Marie. Led by Sid Lee Architecture and Menkès Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes, the goal of the project was to transform the complex into a major urban gathering point for the well-being and cultural vibrancy of Montréal as a whole.

The revitalization of the PVM Esplanade is part of Ivanhoé Cambridge’s $1 billion investment in its downtown Montréal properties.

“Realizing a project in downtown Montréal for an iconic site like Place Ville Marie comes with immense responsibility: to create a living environment that thousands of people will visit daily,” said Yves Dagenais, architect and senior partner at Menkès Shooner. “By establishing a direct connection with urban activity, the implemented architectural response makes it possible to meet that challenge.”

Among the many updates is a series of bars, bistros and cafés known as Le Cathcart Restaurants et Biergarten, and a grand staircase connecting the public Esplanade to nearby McGill College Avenue. For its pièce de résistance, the project team enlisted the help of façade construction specialist Seele to design a new glass roof and entrance pavilion, providing a seamless transition from the Esplanade to the food and shopping mall below.

The project focused on connecting the traffic of the vibrant city streets and the Place Ville Marie Esplanade to the indoor courtyard of Le Cathcart, luring visitors to two sunken courtyards, an indoor garden, and an expansive open space beneath a glass pavilion.

“Montréal’s underground walkway system is a tribute to its extreme northern weather conditions,” said Michael Steinhuelb, vice president of Seele. “Our skylight enables connectedness for the people passing through the nearby train station and working in the Place Ville Marie buildings.”

One of the largest glass structures of its kind in North America, the 42-metre-long roof consists of 18 insulating glass units, supported by 8-ply laminated glass beams and weighing up to 5.6 tonnes. “The corbels supporting the beams were hidden in the walls so that the roof appears to hover, ensuring maximum transparency,” says Steinhuelb. In addition, the entrance canopies are cantilevered up to 4.2 metres, resulting in unobstructed, far-reaching views of both the open space below and nearby Mont Royal above ground.

Le Cathcart’s interior is divided into three distinct environments, comprised of a food alley, an elevated wooden deck and garden, and a series of 15 kiosks of resto-bars, bistros, and cafés with seating for more than 1,000 people.

Steinhuelb says high-performance coated insulated glass was a must to safeguard against weather conditions, and during installation, the team constructed a heated enclosure to protect themselves from the elements. Finally, a vacuum lifter containing 60 suction cups was specially designed and manufactured to raise the roof into its designated place.

When completed, the entire project will offer a space for year-round activities, ensuring Place Ville Marie upholds its long-standing reputation as a unique urban amenity in Montréal’s downtown core.

Supported by 18 glass beams, a 16-foot, high-quality glass slat ceiling provides remarkable transparency, offering a seamless connection to the surrounding cityscape, as well as an unobstructed view of Mount Royal to the north. Seen here during construction, a vacuum lifter raises one of the insulating glass units (© seele).


Photography by Sid Lee Architecture (unless otherwise noted).

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