Montreal Revamps a Historic Pier, Creating a New and Vibrant Public Space

Provencher_Roy gave the city's pier a sleek makeover and greenspace with 30,000 flowering and aromatic plants.
Grand Quai renovation montreal Provencher Roy

Courtesy Stéphane Brügger

In Venice, cruise ships have been facing a substantial backlash, but the situation couldn’t be more different in another historic port.

Montreal has been investing in its Old Port to accommodate the massive tourist-laden vessels. In fact, the city has seen a steady rise in cruise ship passenger and crew member volume from 35,000 in 2007 to nearly 127,000 in 2018. The 2018 season was especially busy: 81 cruise ships docked in Montreal, up from 68 the year before. While that’s modest next to Venice’s 500 large-scale vessels docked in 2018, the increase is paying dividends for Montreal: Cruise ship passengers spent over CA$28 million during their stays in the city during 2018. A cornerstone of this strategy was the CA$78 million facelift for the historic pier, completed in 2017.

The Grand Pier (in French, le Grand Quai du Port de Montréal) has been in operation since the early 1900, back when Montreal was still primarily a port for freight ships. The pier serviced various passenger vessels throughout the 20th century, but despite substantial investment in maintenance work in recent years, the pier showed signs of decay and faced obsolescence. Montreal architects Provencher_Roy were tapped by the city to rethink the historic port and create a new gateway to the city.

Grand Quai renovation montreal Provencher Roy

Courtesy Stéphane Brügger

The new terminal building looks sleek thanks to its ample white surfaces (which include its cladding, structure, and glass frits), glassy facades, and vast wood walkways. In the winter months, the pier blends into the snow and ice of the riverbanks. In the summer, when the bulk of cruisers dock in Montreal, it has become the centerpiece of a thriving public promenade. “We wanted to transform the arrival of the boats into an event for local people,” explains Sonia Gagné, partner and architect at Provencher_Roy. “There are plenty of places where people can sit and enjoy the view and the spectacle.”

In order to incorporate the new pier into Montreal’s delicate and relatively low-rise Old Town skyline, Provencher_Roy added a landscaped esplanade featuring a sprawling wooden terrace and over 30,000 flowering and aromatic plants. The red cedar wood terrace culminates at the pier’s end by stepping down to a new grass meadow, dubbed Commencement Square. In the summer this square serve as a gathering spot and event space.

Elements like the square were essential to make the project more than just tourism infrastructure. “The brief was to refresh the pier and make it available for all [Montrealers],” says Gagné. “We achieved this by lowering the level of the quay so that people can have access to the river and to continue the linearity of the Old Port with a green promenade.”

Work will resume imminently on the project’s second phase, which involves building a steel-and-glass observation on the pier. It’s slated for completion in 2021.

You may also enjoy “A Public Park in Montreal Aims to Right the Wrongs of Past Development Schemes.”

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Categories: Architecture