Skyline Planning

Montreal Silhouette. Adapted from the Cily of Montreal Urban Plan, Nov 2004

This image caught my eye as I was browsing the Plan D’Urbanisme…No, it isn’t plans for the some-day domed city of Montreal.

A Ville-Marie Borough regulation requires all buildings to fit within the silhouette of the downtown area, even if they surpass the height of their neighbours. The goal is to maintain the importance of Mount Royal within the urban landscape. The urban plan doesn’t make it clear whether neighbourhing boroughs are expected to squeeze new developments under the same curve.

Image adapted from: Plan d’Urbanisme de Montréal, November 2004, Partie III – Document Complémentaire.


  1. Well, that silhouette would certainly not allow buildings of the heights developers are proposing for Griffintown (60m – 80m or higher). No wonder they needed to completely ignore the masterplan and use a PPU to rezone things!

    BTW, was at Pecha Kucha this evening and an architect showed slides of these gorgeous, totally sustainable, dense, low-rise, carfree communities in Sweden and he was touting them as a better model for Griffintown…we should have the slides soon!

  2. This is not a new rule… It’s been a gentlemen agreement that no buildings shall be taller than the Mount Royal (252 meters at sea level) for many many years. The second mountain is a suggested skyline; the height restrictions are very stringent in Ville-Marie, specially in the gap area between the natural and build mountains. Their is a publication about FARs and height restrictions, free for every one, on the borough’s website.

    The idea is not to mimic the built mountain perfectly, but rather to preserve the idea of the pittoresque mountain as the heart of Montreal, while the shores of Rene-Levesque are the base of Montreal’s urban skyscrapers. Actually the only place left in Montreal to build 50-storey plus tower would be at the foot of Place Bonaventure on Saint-Antoine. It’s the last piece of land in Montreal where a 200-m tower would be permitted, feasible, and profitable… All of this depending of the transformation of the Bonaventure Expressway into an urban boulevard.

  3. There are still vacant lots on René-Lévesque which allow for 200 meters towers, for exemple the lot in front of the Bell Center, right next to the 1250 René-Lévesque building.

  4. Well it appears a developer is planning a big tower for the empty lot on University between Notre-Dame and St-Jacques, so that’d probably be it. Unless they plan on building things that straddle the railway lines!

  5. What a ridiculous regulation. There are many places in the Montreal CBD where you could place 300+m buildings and would not affect the view of the mountain .. can Mt. Royal even be considered a Moutain? It’s more of a “colline”.

    Tall building represent big business and are very much world-city symbols – dissuading the construction of high-rises prevents our city of gaining international profile.. it’s a very provincial law.

  6. Surprised by the way the curve slopes lower again so quickly as it goes south. I thought they would take advantage of the downward slope towards the river as an opportunity to build taller buildings that are lower relative to the mountain. Still, if this does indeed halt developers from destroying what little there is left of Griffintown, I’m all for it.

  7. Yes, well we must do all that we can to represent big business. Cities such as Rome, London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Milan, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Geneva, Tokyo, Stockholm, Venice etc., have virtually no international profile due to their lack of 50+ storey buildings. Let’s emulate such stellar villes such as Houston, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Atlanta.. dare I say.. Toronto! The beauty spots of North America!

    Can we not just build beautiful buildings? Why MUST they be 50+ storeys when there is clearly no need? Flat cities build up to make up for their physical shortcomings and 3rd world cities build up to prove how ‘modern’ they are. Mediocre North American cities build up because it never occurs to them to do anything else. Montréal falls into none of these three categories so why don’t we just stay out of the ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ competition and let all of the other forgettable burghs out-condo each other.

  8. Tall buildings do not a world-city make: Montreal’s buildings are around the same size as those in London or Paris, and you need only look at the silly Ryugyong Hotel to see that tall is not necessarily better. And unless we try to surpass the Burj Dubai to claim the tallest building in the world, no-one would notice. And if we did, it would stick out like a sore thumb.

    I say Montreal already has a good international reputation — in fact, well beyond its relative size — not because it has beautiful tall buildings but because of how well things fit together here. It’s a smaller city, so we don’t compete with grandiose projects, and we’re not blessed with amazing geography, although the St-Lawrence is pretty majestic as rivers go. But we have a great mix of cultures and races and languages, a very walkable human-scale city with old and new, a relaxed attitude, great neighbourhoods, safe and easy to get around, lots of fun, a great nightclub and music scene, and just enough spice to make it naughty and interesting.

  9. It would be nice though, to see the last few spots where we can build 200m to see buildings that tall. Let’s get some perspective: 200m is not THAT tall. 40-50 storeys depending on the design. This is a nice height without being overbearing. Manhattan is mostly (90%) 40-50 floor buildings. In the US, Chicago has always been preoccupied with 60-100 storey projects while in Canada, it is Toronto interested in height.

    I believe it is less a “look at me, I have the taller tower” attittude but more that 40 floors adds grandeur to a city. Highrises can be elegant and beautifu – the CIBC tower in particular is an example. The proportions are perfect and the materials used (slate) is very special for an building of the international style. It looks as good today as it did in 1962 when it was completed.

    Sadly, we tore down the beautiful Victorian city we had well into the 1950’s. I would have argued for a low-rise city then. Now, it is the point of no return in a way. We are kinda stuck in the middle. Montreal though, is very much like London (its layout and style was largely modelled after the British capital) even today. That is, low rise with a few tall building sprinkled around. (Today London has some great new skyscrapers going up – real showpieces)

  10. “The goal is to maintain the importance of Mount Royal within the urban landscape.”
    I have to ask WHY? WHY should we maintain the importance of Mount Royal within the urban landscape? Mount Royal is barely a mount anyway, more like a hill.

  11. Alpha > To be reminded that Montreal is not entirely concrete. Large, natural reminders are always good visual clues for location, too.

  12. Montreal IS the mountain and the river. Any development that somehow lessens their presence just isn’t in touch with what works here. Some people think towers are the answer to everything which is actually a very limited, let alone uncreative, view of things. You don’t need laws when de facto intelligence and common sense prevail. Unfortunately, we need laws.

    If you took a poll about what makes Montreal great, I am sure very few would answer it’s the tall buildings. I grew up in the city in the 50’s and 60’s and it was pretty rare to meet anyone who didn’t believe they were living in the greatest city in the world. It’s the perception of it that has degraded. In those days no one compared Montreal to other cities because there was a confidence that here was pretty damn interesting, that it was indeed world class and unique.

  13. It is a hill of course, but think of the wonderful view of it from McGill-College, for example… not-too-tall buildings on a street that was purposefully made wide to increase the view of McGill campus and the clever Royal Vic castle-on-a-mountain illusion. Works for me indeed.

  14. Yet the skyline – our 5 tall buildings- is always used to promote the city. Not the mountain or the river. I would also argue that PVM is a symbol that stands side-by-side with Mount Royal. And while I don’t argue that the river is not important, it’s hardly a symbol of Montreal and I don’t know anyone who thinks of the St Lawrence when they think about Montreal.

  15. Hmm, what would some of you prefer:
    A) A 3-4 storey building made of brick to “blend in”
    B) A 60 storey building made of glass and steel that defines the entrance to the city?

    I pick option B, especially when we aren’t losing any building at all, and its a safe piece away from the “mountain” so as not to obstruct its view.

  16. Even with low rise it should be defined as 5-6 floors. 3-4 floors lacks any presence and is akin to small provincial towns not a metropolis. The 2 floors makes a HUGE difference.

  17. I don’t think it is a couple of 20 storey buildings that would destroy Griffintown.. It is concept of the project, the design and quality of materials and because they want to alter the street gird and get rid of some of the remaining heritage. It seems that height is always the one and only rallying cry in opposition of real estate development. Don’t get me wrong, I oppose the current Griffintown plan but not because of the density.

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