After a year-long competition, the city of Montreal unveiled the winning design for the transformation of McGill College on Oct. 15. The City of Montreal announced that Et Sillon, which was pitched by Civiliti, Mandaworks, and SNC Lavalin, was chosen for the upcoming pedestrianization and renovation of the avenue. The city projects that the renovations will be completed between 2025 and 2026.
The international urban design competition, which was announced last year on Oct. 30, called on design firms to submit their proposals for the revitalization of McGill College. A jury composed of engineers, public works directors, urban designers, and architects was tasked with selecting five finalists out of a pool of 28 anonymous submissions. The Et Sillon proposal includes a dense “forest” of large trees, a habitat that supports biodiversity, and a broad range of plant life. Et Sillon was selected following in-depth presentations from the five finalists. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Peter Soland, the lead designer of Et Sillon, explained that the plaza will be a peaceful alternative to the bustle of the nearby Saint Catherine Street.
“The project provides a collection of […] urban living rooms meant to encourage a slower and more relaxed appreciation of downtown [….] The large-scale planting scheme is conceived [to] create seasonal scenes through the pocket forests,” Soland said.
To create the public plaza, the city plans to pedestrianize McGill College between Cathcart Street and Sherbrooke Street. The city will be removing four lanes of bi-directional traffic and dozens of parking spaces along the street. Kevin Manaugh, an associate professor in the Department of Geography, believes that the closure of McGill College will have little effect on traffic in downtown Montreal, as the street is not an arterial road.
At the heart of the plan is a foyer. With a ring of fire in the winter and a small outdoor stage with seating in the summer, the foyer will act as the centrepiece of the plaza.
“The Grand Foyer is the principal hotspot where we hope to attract the population during the winter months, get people out of the underground city, and enjoy the cold,” Soland said.
As the project’s construction will take place outside McGill’s Roddick Gates, the city and designers have included the university’s officials in the decision-making process nearly every step of the way. In a statement from the city, Marilyne Laroche Corbeil, a representative of the mayor’s office, informed the Tribune that the Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal was mandated to consult with McGill students about many aspects of the project.
“[The city held workshops] aimed at users of the avenue and asked them to project themselves into the future,” Corbeil stated. “There was also an inter-university [planning and feedback session where] McGill students participated.”
Manaugh believes that the project will benefit the McGill community because public spaces where the noise and danger of cars do not disturb people can foster wellbeing and liveliness. According to the design team, student perspectives were integral to the design of Et Sillon.
“The McGill population is welcomed to overflow directly into the new pedestrian avenue [….] The Jardin des Pins […] directly south of Sherbrooke Street [will] become an outdoor study environment for students,” Soland said.
As the project is close to the Roddick Gates, it will impact student experience on campus. Ariana Pagnotta, U3 Nursing, told the Tribune that any project that provides students with a space for exercise and fresh air is appreciated.
“I believe this ‘expansion’ of the McGill campus will promote the mental and physical health of students and increase morale, especially during the midterm and final seasons,” Pagnotta said.
By the time the project is completed by 2026, downtown Montreal will already have undergone the implementation of the Réseau express métropolitain, the reconstruction of Saint Catherine Street, and the revitalization of Place Ville Marie.
The interview with Marilyne Laroche Corbeils was completed in French and translated to English for this article.