Place Ville Marie: 50 years old and still gleaming

Sep 13 • Articles, MONTRÉAL, Skyscraper • 8924 Views • 17,654 Comments on Place Ville Marie: 50 years old and still gleaming

Fifty years ago today, on September 13, 1962, the iconic Montreal skyscraper known as Place Ville Marie opened its doors. In the wake of its construction, Place Ville Marie became a symbol of modernization in Canada, and specifically Quebec, that signalled the beginning of a new chapter in the national narrative. The project became a glittering cruciform icon of a Quebec betwixt and between industrialization and Roman Catholicism, with the use of aluminum throughout the project foretelling the direction of the province. With aluminum as one of the main exports of Canada as its cladding, Place Ville Marie was a symbol of a nation embracing its modernity.

This essay will focus on the plaza and the main tower of the Place Ville Marie Development, and will explain why the project is

The project known as the Place Ville Marie Development, designed by I.M. Pei & Associates Partner in Charge Henry Cobb, in collaboration with Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold and Sise-Architects, was a signpost that signaled Canada’s arrival on the global architectural stage. The spacious interiors of the tower and its soaring height superseded any office building in the Commonwealth. Architectural magazines featured Place Ville Marie as an advertisement for Canadian aluminum production and expertise. The project showcased Canada as a renewed nation. In contrast with the early twentieth century when Canada was the emulator, Place Ville Marie began a period in Canadian architectural history when Canada became the emulated.

To explain the architecture of the project in the greater scope of this shift, you have to follow the overarching changes within Quebec society. In Quebec, rural, agrarian proclivities were being replaced by urban, industrial advancement.  The religious and insular society had shifted to a secular and open people. Place Ville Marie stands as an example of this change in both its urban composition, façade and interiors. The original logo of Place Ville Marie was an attempt to symbolize that struggle by illustrating a society wrestling between its Roman Catholic past and its industrial future.

Place Ville Marie Logo

One of the attributes of the International Style is the asymmetry in its composition. When the site plan of Place Ville Marie (below) is examined, it is clear that the idea of asymmetry is evident in how the plaza and the tower stand side by side. This is in contrast to previous styles in the early twentieth and nineteenth centuries when buildings were placed as the central focus of their sites. The focus of the Place Ville Marie is on the civic disposition of the plaza in relation to the tower and McGill College.

Site Plan

The imbalance found in the spatial arrangement of the site plan is similar to the imbalance that existed in the Quebec of the time, between French Quebecers who were rural and largely lower on the socio-economic ladder, and English Quebecers who were urban and in control of the business of the province. The site plan is both a representation of the imbalance of the past and the reorganization of the then present. There among the Victorian blocks of nineteenth century vernacular structures and picturesque urban parks of downtown Montreal, Place Ville Marie stood as a subversion of the status quo, both architecturally and socially (below).

Place Ville Marie overlooking Victorian townhouses in the mid-1960’s that would eventually be demolished and replaced with modern office buildings.

When the idea of a nation elevating itself through the clarity of its conscious relinquishing of the past is compared to the cruciform shape of the main tower and its civic statement, linkages become apparent. For example, one of the advantages of having a cruciform tower is that each wing on every floor could be leased to a separate company, giving them the illusion of the prestige of having the entire floor to themselves. Another advantage of the form of the tower was that it maximized the number of office spaces that saw natural light. The Royal Bank of Canada and the Aluminum Company of Canada, two of the largest corporations in Canada at the time, were the first to agree to occupy the Place Ville Marie.  Many of these companies, who were previously in older buildings of nineteenth century architecture, now found themselves in a building representative of the new Canada. The establishment of a corporate identity through the architecture of the Place Ville Marie became another symbolic gesture of a changing nation wanting to be taken seriously in the world. Place Ville Marie stood as an example of the re-branding of a province and a nation.

Sketch of a typical floor plan

Place Ville Marie played a pivot role in the shift of the Montreal business sector from the old city to the new city. For most of the nineteenth century and until the middle twentieth century, the business sector of Montreal was in the older part of the city, what is now known as Old Montreal, which is a very popular tourist destination. Place Ville Marie became the catalytic project for a new Montreal to become the central business district of the city. The civic statement of centralization of business was crucial in order to create a new urban nucleus. The thinking at that time was leaning towards modernity as a solution for the past, as if the past was a problem that needed to be reorganized.

Old Montreal (in pink), south along the St. Lawrence River with the new city centre to the north, an area that would become Downtown Montreal.

In terms of the façade of Place Ville Marie, the draping in aluminum I-beams (below) to delineate its fenestration and enhance its verticality also represents the increasing modernity of the Quebec society. Rising from a pious past and showing off its main industrial export in the International Style, makes Place Ville Marie an icon of the achievement of the Quiet Revolution. Furthermore, the commonality of the International Style which colonized the architectural language of cities around the world mirrored the growing claims of nationalism and counter establishment movements that swept the globe at that moment. Place Ville Marie can be seen as a shining example of a society that was ready to take its place in the world of industry and social sciences. Its façade is more than just cosmetic, but expressing the shift that was becoming apparent in the province of Quebec and in all of Canada. In this way, Place Ville Marie distinguishes itself from manifestations of the International Style around the world, as not merely a misrepresented repetition of Miesian aesthetics, but a structure imbued with the meaning of a changing nation. There is substance in Place Ville Marie and a cogent reasoning behind its materiality. With an aluminum façade, the Place Ville Marie tower was a modernist building which heeded the admonishing of one of Canada’s earliest Beaux-Arts practitioners, John MacIntosh Lyle, by using the “wealth of possible material” of Canada to define the architecture.  In this case, it can be argued that Place Ville Marie is as much an example of Canadian Architecture as it is International Style.

Aluminum I-beams

Facade of PVM

On the interior, the modernization of the great banking hall rebranded the idea of finance in Canada (below). The Royal Bank hall at Place Ville Marie was a departure from their competitors, such as the Bank of Montreal, who were still in their early twentieth century headquarters designed by McKim, Mead and White, and the Bank of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Art columnist Robert Fulford described the banking hall as giving people the similar feeling of entering into a nave or vault of a cathedral.  If the older banking halls could be considered cathedrals of banking or finance, it is not difficult to agree with of this assessment. It is also notable that comparisons to church architecture were made, which like the cruciform of the building, was a nod Place Ville Marie gave to the devout religiousness of pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec.

Banking Hall

As a result of Place Ville Marie and the cohesive development of other projects it influenced, Canadian architecture and the urban design featured in 1960’s Montreal became an example for other cities to emulate for its ability work on multiple levels. Place Ville Marie caused some to consider Montreal of 1966 to be “the first 20th century city in North America.” What differentiated this project more than others were its roots that spread below grade in form of the underground promenade. This form of organic urbanism became much admired and desired throughout the world, subverting the traditionally held position of Canada as being the country that looked elsewhere for architectural ideas, instead of itself being the tutor.

1) PVM Plaza as a podium above street level 2) Section of a portion of downtown Montreal looking west between Place Ville Marie and Place Bonaventure which would be connected by the underground city of promenades 3) Metro system provided another layer to the underground city. Workers could avoid the frigid Montreal winters by taking the metro downtown and entering the office towers without stepping foot outside until they returned home 4) Shopping promenades at Place Ville Marie which would be later built into surrounding office projects which would then be connected to the underground city and the metro system 5) Section (looking east) and plan of downtown Montreal in the last 1960’s.

The Place Ville Marie was the signal Canada gave to the world that it was no longer a small country. However, as Quebec was showing its industrial might to the world, the whole country was in the process of shedding its British connection. Considering the lamentation of John MacIntosh Lyle in 1932 about the archaeological state of Canadian architecture, Place Ville Marie is a massive leap in the opposite direction. There were many buildings constructed prior to the Place Ville Marie that followed the critical exhortation of Lyle, but none that so drastically distinguished itself in style, scale or materiality. For Canada, Place Ville Marie was an announcement of its modernity and a new chapter in its national narrative. By jettisoning the British connection from the political and social spheres of Canadian life, Place Ville Marie became a symbol for the bold, new Canada. As the tallest building in the British Commonwealth, it established Canada as one of the most progressive countries in the world. It was a global role that was only reinforced five years after the construction of Place Ville Marie with Expo 67.

In true modernist style, Place Ville Marie was an example of a Canada shedding more of its historical ties to Britain, by developing its image anew with confidence. The fact that Place Ville Marie was built in Quebec made its modernist shift in tandem with the mood of the Quiet Revolution, emphatically reinforcing the shedding of historical, rural and religious ties to embrace a technologically advanced future. The construction of Place Ville Marie was not only a defining moment in Canadian history, but one of the most symbolic architectural moments for Canada.


More Photos:  Place Ville Marie  /// Metro system /// Montreal cityscape 

50th anniversary website

Press: Link1 /// Link2

1965 Imperial Oil commercial featuring PVM



Affleck, R.T. “Co-ordination and Organization of the Place Ville Marie.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of

Canada 40 (1963): 61-66.

Aquin, Hubert. “Essai crucimorphe.” Liberté, 5 (1963): 323- 325.

Cobb, Henry. “Some Notes on the Design of Place Ville Marie.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 40

(1963): 54-60.

Blake, Peter. “Downtown in 3-D.” The Architectural Forum 125 (1966): 31-48.

Bland, John. “Appraisal.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 40 (1963): 47-51.

Brett, J.E. “Structural Design of Place Ville Marie.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 40 (1963): 77-81.

Ellwood, Michael. “Offices for the Aluminum Limited Group of Companies.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of

Canada 40 (1963): 67-74.

Kert, Monroe. “Mechanical and Electrical Services for Place Ville Marie.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of

Canada 40 (1963): 81-87.

Knott, Leonard. La Place. Montreal: Rolph, 1962.

Lee, Douglas. “Technical Section.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 40 (1963): 77.

Lehrman, Jonas. “Place Ville-Marie, Critique One.” Canadian Architect 8, no.2 (1963): 63-64.

“Le nouveau centre d’affaires de Montreal.” L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui, 84(1959): 82-83.

Lortie, Andre. The 60’s Montreal Thinks Big. Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2004.

Montreal’s Great Lady. Montreal: SITQ Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, 2010.

Pinker, Donovan. “Financing.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 40 (1963): 75-76.

Place Ville Marie. Montreal: Porcupine, 1964.

Riar, Inderbir Singh. “Montreal and the Multilevel City.” Architecture and Ideas 8 (2009): 36-49.

Richard, J.M. “Multi-Level City.” The Architectural Review 846 (1967): 86-96.

Ricketts, Shannon, Leslie Maitland and Jacqueline Hucker. A Guide to Canadian Architectural Styles. Peterborough:

Broadview, 1992.

Schmid, Carol , Brigita Zepa and Arta Snipe. “Language Policy and Ethnic Tensions in Quebec and Latvia.” International

Journal of Comparative Sociology 45 (2004):231-252.

Schoenauer, Norbert. “Place Ville-Marie, Critique One.” Canadian Architect 8, no.2 (1963): 55-57.

Simmins, Geofrey. Documents in Canada Architecture. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1992.

Singh Riar, Inderbir. “Montreal and the Multilevel City.” Architecture and Ideas 8 (2009): 37-49.

Zeckendorf, William. “Changes Comes to Canada.” In The Autobiography of William Zeckendorf. New York: Holt Rinehart,


Zeckendorf, William. “Financing of Place Ville Marie.” Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 40 (1963): 52-


Zeckendorf, William. “Maneuvers and Battles for Place Ville Marie .” In The Autobiography of William Zeckendorf. New

York: Holt Rinehart, 1970.

Related Posts

17,654 Responses to Place Ville Marie: 50 years old and still gleaming

  1. best rated essay writing service35

  2. best online essay editing service37

  3. best medical school essay editing service40

  4. reviews of essay writing services63

  5. reviews for essay writing services49

  6. review of essay writing services44

  7. recommended essay writing service37

  8. psychology essay writing services57

  9. professional essay editing service98

  10. premium essay writing service12

  11. original essay writing service49

  12. online essay writing service review84

  13. what is the difference between hemp oil and cbd oil68

  14. legitimate essay writing services26

  15. online essay editing services61

  16. bluegrass hemp oil lexington ky36

  17. difference between cbd and hemp oil38

  18. online essay editing service79

  19. online custom essay writing service29

  20. what is the difference between hemp oil cbd82

  21. medical school essay writing service77

  22. medical school essay service79

  23. mba application essay writing service38

  24. mba admission essay writing service42

  25. difference between cbd oil and hemp oil43

  26. charlotte’s web hemp oil2

  27. hemp oil vs cbd oil whats the difference79

  28. benefits of hemp oil for humans27

  29. which essay writing service is the best76

  30. what is the best online essay writing service9

  31. what is the best college essay editing service56

  32. health benefits of hemp oil25

  33. what is a good essay writing service87

  34. what are the best essay writing services26

  35. what are good essay writing services81

  36. us based essay writing service18

  37. top ten essay writing services25

  38. is hemp oil the same as cbd oil98

  39. top rated essay writing services19

  40. the best essay writing services25

  41. the best custom essay writing service47

  42. essay writing services toronto4

  43. graduate school essay writing service61

  44. essay writing services singapore85

  45. law school essay editing service84

  46. essay writing services scams80

  47. good customer service essay69

  48. law school essay review service51

  49. online essay writing services62

  50. law school essay writing service21

  51. college essay writing service reviews58

  52. college essay review services15

  53. cheap essay writing service usa33

  54. best essay writing service review86

  55. top rated essay writing service4

  56. top 10 essay writing services97

  57. essay writing services recommendations41

  58. retail stores selling cbd oil70

  59. where to buy cbd cream for pain23

  60. legitimate essay writing service41

  61. essay paper writing service14

  62. where can i buy cbd oil near me85

  63. application essay writing service6

  64. are essay writing services legal68

  65. the best essay writing service87

  66. best online essay writing services83

  67. best online essay writing service80

  68. reliable essay writing service46

  69. college admission essay writing service95

  70. where to buy cbd oil near me32

  71. what is the best custom essay writing service94

  72. college application essay writing service86

  73. cbd oil dosage instructions61

  74. essay writing services reviews80

  75. best custom essay writing service53

  76. what is the best essay writing service6

  77. online essay writing service53

  78. essay writing services review69

  79. service learning reflection essay40

  80. professional essay writing service82

  81. professional essay writing services74

  82. custom essay writing service reviews65

  83. essay writing service cheap99

  84. cbd oil interactions with medications15

  85. custom essay writing services27

  86. admission essay writing service51

  87. college essay writing services2

  88. essays about community service77

  89. scholarship essay writing service54

  90. best essay writing service reviews22

  91. community service essay sample20

  92. essay about community service63

  93. cheap custom essay writing services16

  94. college essay writing service95

  95. cbd oil holland and barrett58

  96. custom essay writing service42

  97. essay writing service reviews90

  98. where to buy cbd oil in canada71

  99. cheap essay writing service14

  100. help with essay introduction20

  101. help with argumentative essay84

  102. college scholarship essay help50

  103. english literature essay help47

  104. help me write a narrative essay61

  105. help me write a descriptive essay48

  106. help writing a descriptive essay90

  107. help writing a argumentative essay57

  108. what is the difference between hemp oil and cbd oil89

  109. bluegrass hemp oil lexington ky16

  110. help with writing college essays9

  111. difference between cbd and hemp oil65

  112. help with writing college application essay2

  113. help with scholarship essays43

  114. help with essays assignments75

  115. help with writing essays at university97

  116. difference between cbd oil and hemp oil1

  117. charlotte’s web hemp oil49

  118. essay writing homework help30

  119. hemp oil vs cbd oil whats the difference63

  120. benefits of hemp oil for humans10

  121. essay writing help for students3

  122. essay writing help for high school students77

  123. health benefits of hemp oil78

  124. essay writing assignment help11

  125. help me write a compare and contrast essay27

  126. difference between hemp oil and cbd oil35

  127. is hemp oil the same as cbd oil33

  128. essay on helping poor people48

  129. where can i buy cbd oil near me49

  130. persuasive essay writing help37

  131. online help with essay writing11

  132. where to buy cbd oil near me31

  133. need help writing scholarship essay72

  134. need help with essay writing59

  135. need help to write an essay60

  136. need help in writing an essay36

  137. national junior honor society essay help65

  138. help writing a compare and contrast essay31

  139. academic essay writing help65

  140. cbd oil interactions with medications67

  141. who can help me write an essay40

  142. the best cbd oil on the market29

  143. professional essay writing help89

  144. the help by kathryn stockett essay88

  145. how much cbd oil should i take43

  146. holland and barrett cbd oil75

  147. narrative essay writing help61

  148. higher english critical essay help15

  149. help writing scholarship essays71

  150. help writing my college essay88

  151. where to buy cbd oil in canada54

  152. help writing essays for scholarships79

  153. help writing college application essay18

  154. help writing argumentative essay24

  155. help writing an essay for college10

  156. help writing an argumentative essay73

  157. help writing a narrative essay44

  158. help writing a essay for college38

  159. help writing grad school essay62

  160. college application essay help online81

  161. i need help writing an essay for college1

  162. college application essay writing help86

  163. i need help writing an argumentative essay19

  164. i need help writing a essay67

  165. i need help writing a descriptive essay12

  166. i need help writing a compare and contrast essay68

  167. i need help with writing an essay38

  168. college essay help long island37

  169. i need help to write an essay13

  170. help writing essays for college93

  171. what is the difference between hemp oil and cbd oil56

  172. compare and contrast essay help30

  173. bluegrass hemp oil lexington ky13

  174. difference between cbd and hemp oil94

  175. what is the difference between hemp oil cbd24

  176. difference between cbd oil and hemp oil67

  177. charlotte’s web hemp oil36

  178. hemp oil vs cbd oil whats the difference32

  179. benefits of hemp oil for humans1

  180. help me write my college essay24

  181. health benefits of hemp oil97

  182. national honor society essay help20

  183. difference between hemp oil and cbd oil40

  184. help writing college essays72

  185. is hemp oil the same as cbd oil47

  186. retail stores selling cbd oil48

  187. scholarship essay writing help37

  188. common application essay help25

  189. where can i buy cbd oil near me83

  190. where to buy cbd oil online76

  191. i need help writing an essay19

  192. cbd oil interactions with medications27

  193. where can i buy essays online62

  194. the best cbd oil on the market25

  195. where can i buy an essay online85

  196. how much cbd oil should i take12

  197. holland and barrett cbd oil58

  198. where to buy cbd oil in canada38