Tag Archives: Mies van der Rohe

Westmount Square – Five Easy Pieces

Some pics I snapped walking around Westmount Square a few weeks back.

Westmount Square - Tower 3: work of the author, June 2011

The Westmount Square complex was designed by Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1967. It is composed of two residential towers, an office tower and a large squat building with additional commercial office space, all of which is centered on a pedestrian plaza which is further linked to an underground shopping concourse. Access to Atwater Métro station is provided by means of a link which further accesses Place Alexis-Nihon.

Interior Plaza, Westmount Square - work of the author, June 2011

Back in the day, Westmount Square was a prestige address sans-pareil. It also anchored the extreme Western edge of what’s considered downtown Montréal, further providing an interesting link between the commercial aspects of the cities of Westmount and Montréal. The success of Westmount Square doubtless led to the construction of Place Alexis-Nihon’s towers in the mid-1980s, in addition to the gentrification of Greene Avenue and the further development of several high-capacity residential towers around the site. Nowadays the entire area (focused on Atwater Métro) is in dire need of a renaissance, and Westmount Square is no longer the busy beehive of activity it once was.

Interior plaza - Westmount Square: work of the author, June 2011

Evidence of this can be found in the plaza, which is starting to look a little worse for wear. It could use a clean-up, a spruce-up, new vegetation and it would be nice if the fountain was operational – something to draw people into the interior plaza, or possibly, something to serve as a focal point in the middle of the plaza to draw people’s attention towards walking across the plaza. Unlike other more successful examples, such as the plazas at PVM or Place-des-Arts, Westmount Square doesn’t seem to be able to draw many pedestrians into its centre as a means of diffusing traffic away from the street. Perhaps this is a result of fewer people working at Westmount Square, and fewer still are both employed and live in the area. One can tell by walking around the plaza that it would have at one point in the past had significantly more thru-traffic.

Métro access at Westmount Square: work of the author, June 2011

It’s fascinating to note that the site has many access points, including a Métro access on Greene Avenue and another on Wood, pictured here. I wonder if other Atwater Métro access points were developed later, or if at one point there were simply more Métro users living in Westmount. These obviously high-capacity entrances always seem to be devoid of people.

Church across from Westmount Square: work of the author, June 2011

In terms of future planning, both the City of Westmount and the City of Montréal would be wise to collaborate on a design master plan for the entire Atwater/Cabot Square/Westmount Square/ Greene Avenue area. It’s already well connected to the Métro, and has a wide variety of diverse spaces – including institutional, medical, educational, commercial and residential. That being said, the area seems to lack a major anchor, something the Forum once provided. A major cultural space in the area, coupled with new apartment or condo towers, may just do the trick, but there would have to be a sincere effort made to diversify the types of units available. In other words, concentrating on expensive condo units won’t work in and of itself. In addition, a cohesive design scheme, one that would identify the entire area as a distinct neighbourhood/community would be ideal, but again, this would require a heretofore unknown degree of cooperation between these two distinct communities.

Food for thought – most of the work is already done, but Montréal and Westmount need to keep up with the pace of development and urban renewal taking place elsewhere in the downtown. An area like this ought to be an unparalleled focal point for diverse activities and economic activity, but this won’t happen as long as development is done piecemeal, which is kinda how this area feels. Westmount Square stands head and shoulders as the true gem of this collection of tall buildings, but when viewed as part of the whole, stands out for its uniformity and coherence in a neighbourhood seemingly developed according to market whims, rather than good urban planning.