Habitat 67. Basilique Notre-Dame. Silo No. 5. Jacques Cartier Bridge. These are the structures that tourists and locals alike have come to associate with Montreal. Now, thanks to the city’s newest architectural landmark, they can all be seen from one central spot. Designed by local firm Provencher_Roy, the Port of Montréal Tower is part of a larger urban renewal project which has transformed the city’s formerly industrial Grand Quai into a vibrant new public space.

Grand Quai as seen from the street

PHOTO: James Brittain

The tower is located on the Alexandra Pier, originally built in 1899, which once served as one of the world’s most prominent grain exporting hubs. The site evolved from four large storage hangers into a cruise ship terminal in 1967, and eventually fell into disrepair despite significant investment in its maintenance. As a result, the pier fractured the relationship between the city and the riverfront. Provencher_Roy’s competition-winning design set out to change that.

Port of Montreal Tower as seen from the boardwalk

PHOTO: Nanne Springer

The designers began with a complete rethink of the site’s pedestrian and vehicular circulation, improving access by relocating the terminal’s arrival area from the second floor to the ground level. This move freed up the roof of the renovated terminal to allow for a landscaped walkway, dubbed the Promenade d’Iberville. Designed by local landscape architects NIP Paysage, it features over 20,000 plants specifically selected for their resistance to extreme heat, cold and wind. A large wooden terrace planted with native trees including Quebec maples, elms, and white pines historically used to make boat masts, leads down to the Place des commencements, a public plaza and park at the end of the pier.

Port of Montreal Tower as seen from the river

PHOTO: James Brittain

The circulatory revamp also allows cars to park in the hangars without disrupting the flow of pedestrians. But the architects had loftier goals than just to bring functionality back to the port. “Our client asked for a world-class cruise terminal, and we thought we should give them more than that,” Principal Partner and Lead Designer Sonia Gagné explains. “By transforming a once decrepit industrial site into inclusive and accessible public spaces, we’ve breathed new life into the whole community and enhanced the city’s quality of life.”

Montreal cruise ship terminal

PHOTO: Stéphane Brügger

The tower is the perfect capstone on the newly revitalized pier. The architects conceived of the 65-metre-tall structure as somewhat of a lighthouse: an icon that marks the entrance to the port for both visitors arriving by boat, and for pedestrians coming from Old Montréal. Reversing the proportions of low-slung port buildings, the architects created a form that resembles a grain elevator. Boldly cantilevered over the promenade, the blocky structure makes for a distinctive presence on the city skyline.

View of the city from the Port of Montreal Tower
PHOTO: James Brittain

“We chose to let the Tower’s steel and concrete structure be visible behind a curtain wall to celebrate the site’s industrial heritage. Adjacent to the pier stands the Tour des Convoyeurs, which was used to unload grain from ships generations ago – it’s a reference to it,” adds Gagné. These references continue into the interior: a golden spiral stair climbs from the 55-metre-high observation deck to the belvedere 10 metres higher, recalling not only the colour of wheat but the 19th-century exterior stairways found all over the city.

Spiral staircase in the Port of Montreal Tower

PHOTOS: James Brittain

Observation deck at the Port of Montreal Tower

With expansive views of the city and Saint Lawrence River, the observation deck extends the pier’s public ethos, doubling as an event space and reception hall. In the belvedere above, those who dare can step out onto the glass cantilever above the river, fully immersing themselves in their surroundings. Over a decade in the making, the project not only offers a new perspective from which to view the city but also a new paradigm for the marriage of infrastructure and civic space.

View of Habitat 67

PHOTO: James Brittain

The post A New Architectural Icon — and Public Space — on the Montreal Waterfront appeared first on Azure Magazine.

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