A Creative Incubator in Montreal’s Quartier des spectacles

By Heather Romito

A joint effort between The Société d’habitation et de développement de Montréal (SHDM) and Montréal architect firm, Provencher_Roy, has resulted in the visually stunning and sustainable Îlot Balmoral Building. Located in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des spectacles, the Balmoral represents a true coming together of two firms with a shared vision.

A landmark location

The project began in 2010 with SHDM, a para-municipal company that works with the City of Montreal on land development projects, becoming owner of a building site on the place des Festivals. All they needed was the right building to sit at the centre of the Quartier des spectacles.

Through a competitive Request for Proposal process, Provencher_Roy won the bid to work with SHDM on the building’s bold and unique design. According to Claude Provencher, the Balmoral’s location in the midst of a cultural district played a large part in conceptualizing the building. “Our inspiration was to first ensure it fit perfectly with this cultural area. Also, we were really trying to open the building at ground level to make it very transparent and accessible to the public.”
Designed to be a landmark building that would complete the refurbishment of the place des Festivals, Patrick Pretty, architect and project coordinator from SHDM, wanted the Îlot Balmoral to be dramatic and out of the ordinary, and he believes that mission has been accomplished. “The key feature of the building is what I call the red canyon. The red canyon separates the building in two parts. This red glass composite wall starts outside and comes inside to an open atrium. It’s quite striking.”

“Box in a box” design approach

Of course, any successful building project requires the right tenants to complete the vision. Through the Îlot Balmoral, SHDM was able to attract the head office of National Film Board of Canada (NFB) as its first tenant. For the Balmoral design team, this meant incorporating the NFB’s complex technical specifications around the building acoustics into the already unusual architectural design.

Julie Charbonneau, an architect with Provencher_Roy, describes the “box in a box” approach that was taken to provide the NFB with optimal acoustics for its recording studios and theatres. In particular, the design of the Balmoral building would have to address the music and noise of the place des Festivals.

“With box in a box, all the rooms are separate from the building’s façade. There’s always a corridor or a double wall, and we used floating slabs. These were some of the measures put in place to achieve a highly acoustic building in a downtown location.”

No 90-degree angles

Aside from the NFB specifications, the Balmoral’s architectural design elements presented another set of challenges for the architects. Says Pretty, “The walls are all canted. Nothing is straight, and there are no 90-degree angles. We actually had people call us to say they thought something had gone wrong in the construction, and we had to explain that this is the design. The volumes are very intricate and difficult to build.“

In order to assist them with the intricacies of the building’s architecture, the team made use of a powerful and innovative design tool known as Building Information Modeling (BIM). For a project like the Îlot Balmoral, the use of BIM to create a 3D model of the building was essential.

Striking and sustainable

Also important to the building’s design are the many sustainability features, including a green roof, six electric car charging stations and space for 70 bicycles. The building boasts high-energy efficiency and uses non-toxic paint, furniture and carpeting throughout. SHDM is currently in the final stage of getting the Balmoral through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold NC 2009 green building certification process.

Despite design complexities and the challenges that go along with significant construction projects in a public space, the Îlot Balmoral is a success on every level. In addition to attracting the NFB as a tenant, the building is now also home to the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi’s École des arts numériques, de l’animation et du design (NAD School). The building’s owners see great potential for the Balmoral to become Montreal’s creative and cultural film hub and are hopeful they will continue to attract tenants with a similar focus.

Exemplary working relationship

The building is also a big red feather in the caps of SHDM and Provencher_Roy, who both attribute this incredible architectural achievement to a mutual respect and appreciation for each other. On working with SHDM, Provencher says, “It’s important to have a client that supports the design team. SHDM supported us very strongly through the process, which is exemplary and unique. This is why we’ve been able to achieve this project the way we designed it.”

In fact, the Balmoral’s signature “red canyon” element was adopted immediately and unanimously by the full design team, project stakeholders and the general public – a great accomplishment in the world of architecture.
The accomplishments don’t end there. In January 2020, the Balmoral was named a finalist in the MIPIM International competition for “best mixed-use developments”. The pandemic has put a damper on announcing any winners in the competition, but it’s safe to say that this successful collaboration between SHDM and Provencher_Roy already feels like a win.