Montreal-The Revitalization of Phillips Square and Hotel Birks
Between 2018 and 2022 a remarkable revitalization synergy occurred at Phillips Square in Downtown Montreal. Within the broader context of the road reconstruction of Ste. Catherine Street West and the persisting malaise of the post-pandemic downtown economy, the City of Montreal undertook a beautiful renovation of Phillips Square. Meanwhile plans were underway for the iconic headquarters of Henry Birks and Sons Jewelers to be transformed into a luxury-brand hotel with the Birks store maintaining half of the ground floor area. Together these renewal projects has resulted in a transformation of the physical and retail environment of this area of Downtown Montreal. These projects were preceded by Le Square Phillips Hotel (1193 Place Phillips) in 2015 which occupies a historic building designed in 1919 by Québec architect Ernest Cormier (1885–1980). Known originally as the Dubrule Building it was an eight-storey commercial warehouse that has since been repurposed into a 164-room hotel. Clad in yellow brick this early high-rise was designed in the Art Deco style. Immediately behind it is the newly-constructed 1 Square Phillips, a 61-storey,498 unit condominium building at 1201 Place Phillips by Brivia Group.
Phillips Square was built in 1842 in what was a wealthy residential area, which later attracted the area’s first large department stores. In 1891, Henry Morgan moved his company (today, the Hudson Bay Company store) near the square, as did Henry Birks and Son who built his headquarters there in 1894. The square is centered around a bronze monument of King Edward VII, who ruled from 1901 to 1910. The statue was designed by Louis-Philippe Hébert and was erected in 1914. Over the years the beauty of the Square was lost as car parking and urban decay overwhelmed it.
The Revitalization of Phillips Square
In 2022, the architectural firm Provencher-Roy transformed a part of Sainte-Catherine Street West into a pedestrian hub, blending the edges of Phillip Square with the widened public sidewalks. At the heart of the project Phillips Square became a newly expanded and revitalized public space. The landscape plan by Vlan Paysages eliminated street parking and significantly widened the Square’s sidewalks, flipping the proportion of space allocated to cars in favor of pedestrians to return the Square to a vibrant people place throughout the day. Bronze plates in the street serve as urban markers, identifying the grand turn-of-the-century department stores and commercial buildings of the area’s rich social and architectural history. The design also reestablishes Phillips Square as an integral part of Downtown Montreal as envisioned in the original 1841 Phillips Plan. The new landscape design is a contemporary interpretation of an English Garden Square, with lush plantings and open sightlines for better views of the surrounding built environment. The monument to Edward VII is showcased with new up lighting, surrounded by integrated urban furniture including the low walls of the planting beds with wide capstones and the addition of an attractive, programmable water feature to add visual interest for the park users. In addition, the City of Montreal has introduced a moveable seating program which sets up individual chairs and tables daily during the summer months. Overall, the project increased vegetation in the Square by almost 50% and added many more trees. The Square shares its Ste. Catherine Street frontage creating a wide linear plaza that integrates the disparate elements of the Square into a harmonious whole. Pavement features modular paving units to mark different spaces- ranging from dark to light grey which informs pedestrians of potential vehicular lanes as opposed to safe pedestrian zones. Along Ste Catherine Street continuous planting beds provide more space for trees to grow larger. Overall the Square is a renewed evocation of the grand Victorian garden.
Lead Architect: Sonia Gagne
Landscaping: Vlan paysages
The Creation of Hotel Birks – 1240 Phillips Square
This venerable five-storey building was originally built in 1894 on Phillips Square for Henry Birks’s jewelry store, and was originally designed by Montréal architect Edward Maxwell. Over the years the Birks building underwent numerous modifications and was in need of a major renovation. Hotelier Jean Salette (Les Hotels St. Martin Inc.) purchased the building in 2016 and lead a team of professionals to transform and restore the building into a luxurious boutique hotel while preserving the original architectural character of the building. After two years of construction, NEUF architect(e)s remodeled the building into a six-storey boutique hotel, with two subterranean levels, which was completed in 2018 . Partner architect Anh Le Quang and Marion Thiébaux from NEUF architect(e)s worked with interior designer Nicole Vekemans to reinterpret the building’s opulent fin-de-siecle character . The architects sought to conserve existing historical elements such as the elaborate ceiling mouldings and window panels while updating the building systems and introducing luxurious materials for the flooring and to the public areas . For example, to accommodate the building’s new use, a specialized sprinkler system was installed to preserve the original plaster mouldings adorning the ceiling. Storefront windows that had been replaced or partially obstructed over time were refurbished, and obsolete mechanical rooms and vaults were converted into a spa. Formerly occupied by the Birks’ store offices, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors were stripped back to reveal their original character then restored. The damaged 5th floor, which once housed Birks’ watch-making department, was entirely replaced with two glass-enclosed floors creating 132 hotel rooms in total. The two-storey contemporary glass structure discreetly crowns the building and houses some of the largest hotel rooms and suites. This glass structure enabled the addition of premium hotel rooms with access to rooftop balconies with exceptional views of the city. Existing interior columns were carefully integrated into the plans of the room layout giving each space a unique identity.
The new restaurant, Henri Brasserie Française, developed by Jean Salette in collaboration with l’Atelier Zébulon Perron, occupies a portion of the ground floor facing the Square. This bright space captures the mood of the building’s belle epoque character in a modern reinterpretation through the reuse of found elements such as the stained glass panels and the introduction of contemporary materials. The Birks Jewelry store retains its beautiful period interior but was upgraded to contemporary fashion, looking like a gallery devoted to the art of fine jewelry.