2-22 Ste-Catherine – A whole new street


2-22 Ste-Catherine by night. Image by Société de Redéveloppement Angus, Paul Andreu, Aedifica & Gilles Huot, May 21 (PDF).

It may be ugly, it may be unpopular, but it’s not a monster.

Although the proposal for 2-22 Ste-Catherine creeps above building height regulations, at 8 stories it is no King Kong tower. And more importantly, it is to be LEED certified, built with local materials, and provide space for local arts and cultural organizations. A café, bookstore, bar, green roof with terrace and a “vitrine culturelle” with info about events around town promise to keep it bustling with activity. So far, so good.

But it is in the actual design that things get prickly.The developer, Société de Développement Angus (SDA), hand-picked a big-name French architect, Paul Andreu, who sketched up a 40 x 33m glass facade which has not impressed anybody.

Inside the building, a wide indoor passage animated with cultural and commercial activities would run all along Ste-Catherine street, creating a parallel “street life” behind glass.


Image of 2-22 Ste-Catherine’s inner atium, by Société de Redéveloppement Angus, Paul Andreu, Aedifica & Gilles Huot from a May 21st presentation (PDF)

I’ll leave the aesthetic critique to those of you more knowlegeable about architecture than I. All I can say is that the design may unpopular, but it dosen’t hide the building’s raison d’être.

An “urban re-qualification project

I wonder whether the imported starchitect took any time to linger on the corner of Sainte-Catherine and the Main before drawing up these plans.

Did he imagine squeegee punks slumped on the sidewalk outside, their studded leather jackets flattened against the sheets of glass? Did he picture club kids checking their reflections in the panes, tugging at the hems of their too-short skirts and rubbing smudged mascara off their cheeks before plunging into the dance pits at Les Saints or Foufounes Électriques. Did he consider the shoeless drunks who would surely seek shelter inside his polished atrium, trying the line between public and private space?

Why would he have? After all, SDA president Christian Yaccarini has said that the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Saint-Laurent is “completely dead.”

Which is not to say the developer is blind to the darker underbelly of the city that tends to surface on this corner. According to a document describing the project:

“SDA est sensible à la souffrance et la détresse humaine qui sévissent sur les lieux. Elle ne peut ni ne veut toutefois prendre sur son dos l’entière responsabilité de les soulager. Toutefois, pour SDA, il est entendu que ce projet de requalification urbaine doit être utilisé comme levier réel pour déranger la misère.”

(Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last phrase translates to something like: “this urban requalification project must be used as a real lever to shift the suffering.”)

Make no mistake about it: The 2-22 is not trying to fit in with its neighbours. It is not trying to respect the existing usage and urban form, nor is it attempting to respond to local needs. Its explicit goal is just the opposite: it aims to carve out a space for a whole new demographic of consumers to make themselves comfortable in the Quartier des Spectacles.

So, while we wait for suffering to pack its bags and leave, those who want to sip lattés at Olivieri’s can peer out at an infamous block of Ste-Catherine from behind an antiseptic wall of glass. For those who prefer the 99-cent hot-dogs across the street at La Belle, envoye, su’ le trottoir.


  1. Oh did you go to the consultation publique?

    “requalification urbaine” means like “urban redevelopment”. As in “requalification du territoire” which as it happens is the name of a book worth looking up.

    It’s sad that they’re trying to purify the red light area, but it’s nothing new. They’ve been trying to do that in the neighborhood since the 1950s with the Plan Dozois. This recent round seems to be all about throwing out the undesirables and installing attractions for the Creatified Yupsters, like you say (the Mile-End kids in 10 years or so, post tattoo-removal).

    Saying the neighborhood is dead is a variation on the familiar old frontier discourse. But this entry picks up on those themes as well. “too-short skirts”. Really? and where else should the bums go? Lattes and “hot dogs” are a legitimate use of the city but not homelessness and sexuality?

    The opposition to the glass puzzles me. I guess it comes from those romanticists who insist that everything be “natural”, “authentic”, self-effacing and kind of dumpy.

    “We’re better off with a green park, than a glass tower as is,” said John Zoumboulakis, the owner of Café Cléopâtre, a showbar on St. Laurent, north of René Levesque Blvd.

    Groaaan. If they put a green-colored space there, it would end up like the one on clark & prince-arthur: full of trash & scaries who yell at passers-by. A marginal space in a void.

    The building isn’t huge, it goes out to the sidewalk, and it offers something of visual interest. I guess it could be a neo-classical temple or a converted “loft”, but …

  2. “levier réel pour déranger la misère.”

    What a weird sentence… “Déranger”? Really? They think that building will “bother misery”?

    — X

  3. The glass facade is not the problem! The problem is the wall on St-Laurent which is way too bland.

  4. No it is not a monster, but I don’t see how it will be an improvement over the current empty lot when it comes to revivifying the block. Not that the area needs to be revivified, contrary to the curiously disengaged comments from the architects and from the Angus spokesperson. The area is far from deceased. But my complaint is that the long wall of glass will add nothing over the current long fence. Now it is just a long stretch of something to walk by; when the glass is up it will be just a long stretch of something to walk by. I think the paraphrase from Angus is telling (from the Gazette article you linked to):

    . . .this will be an entrance for the city’s Quartier des Spectacles, it must stand out as a destination for people to visit.

    This tells me that the building is quite intentionally designed NOT to take into consideration the needs of those who live in the neighborhood, those who walk by daily, etc. If this neighborhood is part of your life, you do not matter. For you it will be no different from you have now: a long block of mostly nothing. A fenced-off dead zone will be replaced by a shiny new dead zone. To plop this down into a neighborhood of storefronts is just tone deaf.
    But let’s say we are willing to neglect the quality of space for those who live and walk in the area; we still need to ask about the building’s role as a destination. Is there really expected to be enough ticket buying to keep the the place lively? Year round? I mean, sure, maybe at moments during the summer festival season. But during January, what will this building offer to those who walk past, other than an opportunity to duck inside and escape the wind for a block?

    This is a truly horrible idea.

  5. Ugh – There should be a law forbidding the appearance of gray concrete in any new buildings in Montreal. The side wall of this thing looks like it belongs on a parking garage and the interior looks like a cheap stadium.

  6. I don’t like it. But the atrium thing works for the Grande Bibliothèque, in a way. And it does acknowledge that our climate means we’re more comfortable indoors for part of the year.

    I just think it’s entirely tone deaf to the neighbourhood, but – as you say – this may be exactly what’s been specified.

  7. should we be satisfied by ‘not a monster’? i thought the point of paying andreu too much money was so we get something thats ‘wow’. maybe MVRDV
    and the walk way behind teh glass wall? parisians had this whole gallerie thing about 200 years earlier. doh.

  8. Mark my words- there will be a Couche Tard in this building within 2 years.

  9. I thought the Main was a historic site where “obtrusive elements must be minimal”. This starchitect bs is going to ruin the site!

  10. I kinda like the design… Way better than an empty lot.

    We are in an era where EVERY project systematically meets opposition.

  11. I think this building looks great! And I like the idea of a “glassed-in” sidewalk, precisely for January. There are so few places in the “ville intérieure” where you can enjoy the refuge from the cold whilst admiring the view outside. I hope they put little café terraces in there or at least park benches so you can sit and enjoy a little sun.

    I agree with bdgbill regarding the grey concrete side-wall though. It’s very bleak and looks like it will age badly.

    “Déranger la misère” – I don’t interpret that to mean shift the misery, I think what they are trying to say is “affect the misery”, carefully wording the sentence to avoid claiming that they will in anyway remedy it.

  12. No, it’s not trying to “fit in” with its neighbors, in the sense of aping their scale or materials, and it is a building with an agenda. Breathe for a second. Buildings do this. Buildings go in a place and shift functions within that place, and contrast with surroundings can usefully embellish rather than detract.

    But I think you’re taking those silly Angus press releases a little *too* seriously when you harp — and dude, you’re harping — on the new functions and new clienteles it’s supposedly bringing to the area. “Creatified yupsters” are *not* a new clientele in this neighbourhood, and even on this stretch of this street. Monument National, thousands of condominium units, TNM, thirty-storey towers full of well-paid functionaries from banks and government — all these have managed to coexist fairly successfully with the clubkids, drunks, etc. Olivieri (an art bookstore that serves coffee, of all the horrors under heaven) has operated on Côte-des-Neiges, not a particularly upscale street, for years without wrekcing the place. Chill.

    And a building is not a streetscape. A building has a function, or multiple functions, that it accommodates, and that determines what’s happens there. Focus on the building’s program, what it’s suppose to contain and do, if you want to know how it’s going to function. Ignore the nonsense that developers put in their press releases about the architecture, and address the thing itself.

    So: that ticket booth is going to be a central ticketing location for dozens of performance venues with thousands of seats. That’s a lot of activity, and people *will* line up in there. Yes, behind “antiseptic glass”, rather than in a concrete slab like Place-des-Arts. That’s not a way of handling the program that cuts the activity off from the street, or vice versa. Upstairs, a bunch of offices for various groups that are already working in the area. Buying tickets to events and running cultural organizations are not functions that are new to this neighbourhood, and this program handles them in a reasonably appropriate way.

    It looks different, yes it does. It’s glass and it’s new construction. The main problem with it, by my lights, is that it’s too damn big, but Ste-Catherine handles all kinds of abrupt changes, many of them inappropriate, in scale and materials. The street is way stronger than this building, and this building isn’t going to weaken it. Certainly no more than the previous structure, a porny wreck full of gangsters and owned by an indifferent absentee landlord.

    And fussing about something because it’s designed by an “imported” architect? Really, man? Are foreigners assumed to be utterly tone-deaf to Montreal? There’s tons of “imported” Montrealers and they do just fine.

  13. The “concrete” wall on St-Laurent is actually made out of traditionnal Montreal grey stone, just like almost every single building in the aera. That doesn’t make it more acceptable. It’s still a blind wall. But it’s not concrete.

  14. The side wall on St-Laurent is not grey concrete but to be made of Montreal Greystone, an attempt to fit in with its historic neighbours. Its almost impossible to tell anything from the images. I had to check the architectural plans to figure where the entrances (only one entrance on ste-cath, one on st-laurent and one on st-dominique).
    I agree that an indoor space is good for wintertime, but it’s a bit strange to separate all the occupants – commerces and cultural organizations – from the street. To me it feels a bit like a buffer zone. The building dosen’t really interface with the outside world, it creates its own little utopic “streetlife” minus the pesky things that come with real public space.

  15. Montreal greystone is beautiful. ButI think the Ste-Catherine side is horrid and forbidding in wintertime. La Grande bibliothèque is not a very attractive building from the outside either (except on the narrow rue Émery side); what makes it so attractive is its use and the natural light indoors.

    Oh, almost anything is nicer than a vacant lot, but this site has shown the attractive building that was originally on the spot before the badly-renovated horror that was torn down. Not that recreating the historical architecture would be feasable or even desirable, but I think there should be more reference to its proportions and elegance.

    New Urban Space, please stop stereotyping people who live in Mile End.

  16. Build it. If it works, we’ll keep it. If it sucks, we’ll just tear it down in a generation or two and build something else. Better to have something other than a vacant lot in busy areas. Yeah, this type of attitude is kinda the opposite of the current ‘eco trend’ way of thinking, but it’s the way things are, if you think about it. It’s good that somebody wants to even build something here in the first place. This could be a downtown corner in Detroit…or St. Louis. Better to make hay while the sun shines than worry that the hay doesn’t look good enough and let the rain fall.

  17. …or the public could put up too big of a fuss and the developer will move to greener pastures, like expanding the Quartier DIX30. It’s good to demand excellence, especially in such a historic and important quarter, but if we demand too much, the lower Main is only going to deteriorate further as the cash flush developers rush to the suburbs. I was walking around the back alleys around St Laurent / Ste Catherines a few days ago. This area is too centrally located and interesting to be in the vapid state it’s in. The vacant lots are literally screaming for development. So, maybe the area is fertile enough for development that it’s best to fight off the 2-22 and demand something better, but maybe not. Tough call, but it’d be a shame to see this area sit in such a sorid vacant state much longer.

  18. I think it’s exciting that we’re trying something, and with a world-class architect, no less. My main disappointment is that this seems rather tame compared to some of this other projects.

  19. Just another example of why there should be competitions for these projects. Let the city choose what it believes are the 4 or 5 best submissions and then put it to a public review , heck, even just a plain out vote. Stuff like this is depressing, but, sure, I could easily live with it if businesses and locals are part of an actual consultation and accountability process.

  20. I don’t understand the problem some of the other readers have with this building and how it fits into the neighbourhood. Do they live in the area and frequent Cafe Cleopatre, La Belle Province and Importations Main often? Unless they do, why are they so opposed to some new development in the area? As far as the design goes, perhaps they should criticize some of the other hideous architecture in Montreal before ragging on this interesting and bright new building – at least it will not be in a sorry state of disrepair like many others in the area.

    Cities are constantly changing and reinventing themselves and this is a great opportunity for Montreal to redefine the red light area as a cultural zone as opposed to a drugs, sex and crime zone. For the longest time, the red light area of Montreal has only been accessible to a certain portion of the population. Why should the rest of us have to feel intimidated every time we want to go to a show at Club Soda or Metropolis just because we’re don’t look like deadbeats? As far as I’m concerned, cleaning up the area is a good thing.

  21. Undesirables vs. Yuppies: while this project definitely will bring more yuppies to the area, it’s not as though they’re absent now you know. And Montreal’s urban planners are well aware of the role this whole area plays for the down-and-outs, so I don’t see this project as a desire to chase anyone away… more fill in some holes, I’d say.

    I’ve lived in the Latin Quarter right next door for 20 years, and I’ve seen the neighbourhood transform from really quite poor and sad to still poor but incredibly mixed and positively chic in places. It’s a pleasure how it can cater to so many different people and needs: intellectual but angry young students condemning the wasteful extravagance of the young yuppies heading out to the theatre, little old chinese ladies pushing home their groceries past the aging prostitute on the corner, young suburban club kids out partying, stoner squeegees in town for the summer, dazed homeless men being eyed suspiciously by naïve American frat boys who just want to know where the closest peeler bar and cheapest beer can be found.

    I think the area is a good example of Montreal’s relaxed and sophisticated attitude to “undesirable” stuff: just mix things up. In many places, “bad” things are shoved away where decent upstanding citizens don’t have to see it; here, bad stuff is mixed in with ordinary, so it’s just part of the landscape and no-one blinks an eye. I enjoy telling tourists who ask which areas they should avoid that this is arguably the worst Montreal has, and that it’s still perfectly safe to walk about day or night.

    And compared to what I knew growing up in Vancouver with its Downtown Eastside… ouf.

  22. I don’t think it’s possible to evaluate this building without looking at how it will fit with the new tower across the street. I just posted that perspective view here in case you’re interested (I don’t think it’s available online as an image yet):


    I just wrote about this Quadrilatère project in the Mirror today, and really wish I had this elevation view to use for the article because it drives home the results of their effort to integrate the block. You can see it here (and feel free to hotlink if any of the Spacing bloggers want to write about this):


    It’s worth noting that they airbrushed the big Q in the main entrance of the office complex for the documents they made available on the website today, probably because there were some gasps during Tuesday’s public presentation. This version still has the Q.

    Speaking of which, tons more about both the 2 – 22 and Quadrilatère can be downloaded on the official page here (click on the name of either project to access its page of info and doc links):


  23. Honestly, you’re better off with a MCdonalds there, or like the guy said a Couche-tard, and maybe some cafe sipping place to “duck in and escape the cold”
    but thats it, this building/prject/vision not only does it not do anything for the neighbourhood, it just doesnt make any sense at all!
    I rather park-esque lot with tables and benches then this audacity!

  24. Thanks Louis, I’m much more comfortable with this building after seeing the Quadrilatère. It suffered from sore-thumbism. I liked the front from the get-go but the sides are rather weak and mundane looking.

    I must say though that l’Adresse Symphonique has me mesmorized at the moment. What a beauty! I was concerned over Jack Diamond, his latest efforts have been fairly forgettable but l’Adresse.. a wonder of woodiness!

  25. This building look obscene,from a point of view of an ex-dealer :to the poor it will cry`:Go away ! I have lived the best times of my life on this corner with the prostitutes of the night,the stores managers,the sellers like me.That corner is still full of the spirits of the peoples who made it the way it was; and trying to erase what was is hypocrecy.More places for tourist, less to the real citizens!


  26. My opinion on the subject hasn`t changed…..the mayor runs this city like it was his backyard, with al his ‘changes’ he is pushing citizens out,thinking only about paying tourist: i asked him during the saint patrick’s parade what he was planning for the homeless kids of the area: his answer was that he would do something for them….lies!! and more lies..regarding the cleopatre , it should invoke ‘arrangement raisonnable’ like everybody else……it is an institution on the ‘Main’ that needs to stay there….a place you feel at home, warm, familiar…..and a last place Québecers feels welcome….folks think about it.it has been there since so long ‘Tremblay ‘ don`t own the city.it is time to oust him out !!! He likes change , time to change mayor!!

  27. Montreal continues to sacrifice good architecture – architecture is a hallmark to our moment in the history of civilization – for designs that “fit” and try to re-create/echo the past. Since when is Montreal so damn conservative? Proposals either get watered down or they are so bland and unimaginative that they simply miss the mark completely. The GBQ is a perfect example: there were two other designs that were so imaginative and exciting and progressive. What we got, well… forgettable. The Hotel St-Martin near Metcalf is a stunning piece of work too, don’t you think? The best part of it is that it fits in with its neighbor Les Cours Mont-Royal. Even the colors match. C’mon Montreal. Even London,with a far more historic urban fabric to contend with is putting up some amazing buildings. THE MIXING OF ARCHITECTURAL STYLES THAT DEFINE A TIME PERIOD IS WHAT MAKES AN INTERESTING URBAN FABRICS.

  28. break up the enclave of suffering might be more accurate

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