Perspective on the City { No.8 }

McGill College Avenue during a snowstorm - work of the author

McGill College, once upon a time, was a narrow one-lane street, crumbling on both sides with the remnants of the residential buildings and small-scale businesses once typical of St. Andrew and St. George’s ward. By the 1970s, a good portion of this stretch featured surface parking lots.

The redevelopment of McGill College Avenue was a long and drawn-out process, thanks in part to Jean Drapeau’s insistence in developing a new concert hall for the OSM on the site.

Almost thirty years later, McGill College Avenue is a wide-open success story, acting as a central north-south commercial and retail artery with plenty of tall buildings making the best of this prestige address. Along the avenue, you’ll notice that the two tallest buildings north of PVM are positioned diagonally across from one another, and a variety of building heights permits generous amounts of sunlight to flood the space (enjoy a nice outdoor lunch here in the Summer). Oddly, it’s not the most traveled street, and can be transformed into an open plaza on occasion. It’s long redevelopment saga involved many prominent figures in the local architecture and urbanism scene, including Phyllis Lambert, who opposed the development plan of a company she partly owned. Even more bizarre, the two architects Ms. Lambert engaged to build the CCA, Peter Rose and Errol Argun, both played significant roles in the redevelopment of McGill College. Rose worked on the renovation master plan while Ergun designed the Place Montréal Trust tower (currently, the Astral Media Building, which used to be co-located at the LaSalle College building in the Shaughnessy Village on Ste-Catherine’s, which was also designed by Ergun).

As you can see, the back-and-forth between the city, the developers and the public continued for some time, featuring a wide variety of different proposals, which included some plans to block off the view of Mount Royal entirely, while others proposed odd looking bridges to connect retail shopping centers and department stores overhead, and then underground.

In essence, what we have today is the result of many, many compromises. And despite some bruised egos and a lot of frustration twenty some odd years ago, today we’ve got something that works, and is unmistakably Montréal.

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