Place Monique-Mercure by

2023 Public Projects / Canada / Built in 2021 /

Place Monique-Mercure

Place Monique-Mercure is located in Montreal, North America’s largest French-speaking city, known for its friendly neighborhoods, its dynamic cultural life, and its commitment to design. There are several theaters in the city, among them the Outremont Theatre, which dates to the early Twentieth Century.
This remarkable Art Deco building’s main entrance faces Bernard Avenue, a lively commercial street with numerous cafés, restaurants, and small shops. Its lateral façade is on Champagneur Avenue, a residential street typical of Montréal’s well-to-do neighborhoods. Until recently, the theater stood on its own without any room for theater goers to linger outside, before and after shows.

Context and opportunity

Over the past decade, the City of Montreal, a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, has embarked on a major infrastructure program, gradually replacing its obsolete water and sewer infrastructures. This provides municipal authorities with an opportunity to redesign the public realm. The objective is to revitalize street life, reduce the imprint of cars, better manage rainwater, and reinforce the growth of the urban canopy.

In central neighborhoods, parking lanes near street corners are eliminated and transformed into extensions of the public realm making pedestrian crossings more secure. Indigenous vegetation and, where possible, rain gardens are introduced, greening the urban landscape, and contributing to Montreal’s water management best practices.
This transformative process, favoring pedestrians over cars, provided the perfect opportunity for the implementation of a small urban square near the Outremont Theatre. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Borough and the Theatre’s administration, Place Monique-Mercure was designed in the same spirit as other city interventions but also as an outdoors extension of the theatre. It was meant to be enjoyed by patrons before and after representations but also by passersby and local residents.

Design solution and inspiration

The 1929 Art Deco building, designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1993, provided the main source of inspiration for this small urban oasis, named after Monique Mercure, a celebrated Québec actress.

The program called for an exterior space that would provide seating, lighting, and scenic components. Despite its small size, 180 square meters, the future meeting place had to be designed in such a way as to allow for small theatrical events organized under the auspices of the theatre.

The solution was to introduce a long ribbon-like granite bench that gracefully weaves around the site, giving the project a unique architectural rhythm. The bench provides seating, conversation nooks, and a festive environment for children to walk, run and play. Three large lanterns create a dreamy night landscape.

The main constraints

As the concept was being developed, the designers had to take into account four major technical constraints.
·      The design had to integrate underground infrastructures for energy suppliers. Four manholes were to be maintained, two of which had to be accessible to medium-size utility trucks.
·      Direct access to the sidewalk from the theater’s Champagneur Avenue fire exits had to be secured.
·      The sidewalk along Champagneur Avenue had to be clearly identified for pedestrians, people with mobility issues, and snow removal operations.
·      The theatre’s promotional window, located at the corner of both avenues, had to be easily accessed.

Materials, layout, and lighting

A rich brown granite was selected for its beauty and its strength. The stainless-steel strip inserts recall the theatre’s rich Art Deco heritage. Douglas Fir seats, incorporated to the granite bench, were designed as invitations to stop and linger, enjoy a drink, engage in conversation, or simply watch children as they explore this unusual urban landscape. The paving acts as a unifying device subtly delimitating the circulation areas from the gathering spots.

Floral patterns inspired by the theater’s Art Deco interiors were reproduced on the three large lightboxes located through the site. Made of cut-sheet stainless steel, these giant lanterns provide warm ambient lighting for the long summer evenings. Their presence is also much appreciated during the dark, cold winter nights.

Urban theatre

The design is meant to celebrate the public realm as the archetypal theatre of daily life. The landing and the steps in front of the theatre’s exit doors create a perfect stage setting for impromptu representations. At the other end of Place Monique-Mercure, a small pyramidal volume becomes an optional mini-stage for improvised dance or acrobatics.
Place Monique-Mercure renews with the tradition of placemaking rooted in permanence; it illustrates how urban design can celebrate history while shaping new, contemporary urban environments.

Montreal, Canada
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