Montreal’s Best Architecture Psychoanalyzed

Special contributor Justin Boulanger, architecture master’s student and psych-architect extraordinaire, delves into Spacing readers’ minds and analyses their personalities based on their favourite local buildings. These buildings were voted Montreal’s Best Architecture in Spacing Montreal’s readers’ poll last month.

First Place: Canadian Centre for Architecture (1989).

image from Google street view

Your kitchen is stocked with wood and brushed aluminum paraphernalia that will last a century longer than you do; and they didn’t come off the Swedish mass-production line – many of those materials came from around here. You have an expensive and distinctly local fashion sense; you love the cachet of old places, you just wish they could be a little more modern, or better yet, a little more postmodern. You support worthy causes, cry when trees get cut down, and have trouble throwing things away – you probably have some fabulously restored antique in your living room that contrasts proudly with the rest of the stark, swanky decor. You were the first to discover the brunch menu at Sparrow but have already moved on to some far hipper place with no lineup. You love to attend vernissages where you schmooze with people dressed in all black with thick framed glasses . Most importantly, you know what a vernissage is.

Second Place: Habitat ’67.

Your favourite toy as a child was Lego. There was something so fascinating about piling up and interlocking those painfully square pieces with their little knobs and crannies. You liked to throw caution to the wind and hook those 8-knob pieces together by just one little edge so as to form a totally kick-ass cantilever type structure. You giggled as you did it again, and again, and again, with only the bare minimum of support holding the contorted construction up. You have, at some point in time, had an Escher print on your bedroom wall. Also, you enjoy travelling to the far reaches of nowhere with the sole intention of visiting monumentally awesome things.

Tied for Third: 1250 Rene-Levesque (IBM Building) (1992).

cc abdallahh

You don’t mind getting noticed. What’s wrong with a little bling, a little shiny-shine? The only rule is that it can’t be boxy or boring like all the other mass-produced stuff. What this square world needs is some style, baby — a little panache! As such, it is one of those amusing quirks of the universe that you picked this building and yet you “are a Mac”. You have at least one crazy hat that you wear every now and then. Maybe you even cock it a little to the side for that extra shot of asymmetric cool. You’re not opposed to fashion that make use of tiny, repeating patterns: hound’s tooth, pinstripe… It’s just gotta be done well. If someone gave you the choice between Montreal’s downtown city life or residential ‘hoods as a place to live, you’d say, I’ll take both, thank you very much. You are planning to some day retire on a yacht.

Tied for Third: Aldred Building (1929).

Aldred building

Steampunk fan right? Am I right? A little retro-modern? You liked that helmet/rocketpack combo in the The Rocketeer. You also wish that every building in Montreal kind of looked like the Aldred Building so that we would actually be living in Gotham city. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’ve got a dog. It’s not one of those yappy, shivering curly-haired ones, but a beefy, hefty beast of dog with sculpted muscles and a serene gaze that can only come from the knowledge that it is completely within one’s capabilities to crush granite in one’s jaws as though it were a butter cookie. If you and your gargantuan dog weren’t living here, you’d be in New York… or Chicago.

Tied for Third: Notre Dame Basilica (1888).

Photo cc L.Burchfield

When you invite friends to visit Montreal for the first time, you often use the phrase “it’s a very European city”. You are a firm believer that just because something was invented on another continent, it doesn’t mean we can’t do just as good of a job in Quebec. You marvel at the craftsmanship involved in making ornate things and would rather have a great, big old grandfather clock ticking away in the back of the den than some newfangled digital monstrosity. You have a soft spot for glass tinted in primary colours and you secretly watched Celine Dion’s wedding on television.

Tied for Third: Sun Life Building, 1155 Metcalfe (1931).

You’re slightly obsessive-compulsive — not in the bad way that makes it impossible for you to leave your house, but in feel the need for things to be ordered, logical, and preferably symmetric. You would rather call in sick than go to work wearing unmatched socks, you arrange cutlery very neatly while you wait for food in a restaraunt, and you fold your toilet paper. If you drive a car, it is from the 1930’s because these cars today, they just don’t make them like they used to.  Also, you are of the opinion that neo-classical columns: a) rock, b) they rock hard, and c) they are appropriate on any building that has any intention of looking mighty fine.

Honourable Mentions.

Surprisingly, the Olympic Stadium supporters / science fiction fans were not organized enough to crack the top three spots, although any building that can seriously be described as a cross between “a monster and a spaceship” deserves a ton of respect, in my opinion.

In the “discoverers of hidden marvels” category, voters for the Caisse de Depot (CDP Capital) get two empathetic nods from me; one for the multi-story walkway over Saint-Alexandre (and the sorcery it must have taken for the designers to get the city to allow it) , and the second for one of the best atrium/glazed curtain wall/courtyard combos I’ve seen.

Similar feats of architectural levitation are achieved in the incredible Pointe-a-Calliere Museum, which perches on a few huge columns and basically hangs over the foundations of one of the first buildings in Montreal without touching them…

Finally, a hearty “hear-hear” to the defiant characters who voted for the tragically flawed Grande Bibliotèque. Despite being a victim of insufficient testing for thermal expansion of glass panels on its exterior, it remains one of the most celebrated contemporary buildings in the city, and with good reason: judge it from the inside out.


  1. Beautiful — and funny — article. Thanks for an insightful laugh. 

  2. Nice Justin, very nice. Fun and accurate.

  3. I hope you will publish the entire list. It would be at least as interedting as this one. Good work.

  4. CCA should read: Shaughnessy Mansion (1874), no?

    where is the outrage?

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