Quartier des Spectacles

Montréal, Québec 

Photo Credit: Daoust Lestage Inc.


Initial Research by: Desiree Theriault

Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2017


Project: Quartier des Spectacles

Type of Urban Strategy: Smart Cities 

Type of ProjectCommercial Architecture / Plaza

LocationMontréal, Québec

Date Designed/Planned: 2009

Construction Completed:  2011

Designer: Daoust Lestage Inc.


Quartier des Spectacles is an arts and entertainment district located in the eastern section of Downtown Montréal, designed by Daoust Lestage Inc. as a centre for Montréal's cultural events and festivals. The Quartier des Spectacles is a member of the Global Cultural Districts Network. The area is now home to many of Montréal's major festivals, including the Montréal International Jazz Festival, the Franco Folies, and the Just for Laughs comedy festival. Urban design features of the district include concert spaces, tiered green space and stonework, illuminated fountains and walkways, various forms of street lighting, mist machines, and bike paths. 

(Ville de Montreal, N.d.)


Historically home to Montréal's red-light district, theatres and museums, the project demonstrates the ability to shape urban redevelopment through cultural momentum. The core of the Quartier des Spectacles occupies a large city block inhabited by cultural institutions: Place des Arts, Maison Symphonique, and the Musée d’art Contemporain.

Now acting as a multivalent armature for assorted spectacles and events in the heart of Montréal, this scheme powerfully encapsulates the potential of public space by engaging with and celebrating civic life. New elements, lighting, and landscaping rationalize and transform an existing nondescript square into a civic hub for different activities. The project’s well-judged sense of scale and generous urban character are an inspiring exemplar for similar developments.

(Ville de Montreal, n.d.)


The Quartier des Spectacles is an area located in downtown Montréal, immediately East of the business centre. For more than 100 years, it has been a vibrant space full of artistic events. However, it has suffered dramatically from urban renewal during the second half of the twentieth century. There was little room for pedestrians, many vacant lots, and large real estate complexes marked the landscape and had a negative influence of the space’s overall image. Since 2007, this once unstructured area, covered by parking lots, has been undergoing a major urban renewal, including a new network of four large outdoor stages around Place des Arts. When completed, it will have transformed more than 300,000 square meters of urban space.

(Quartier des Spectacles, n.d.)


The location of Quartier des Spectacles is on the site of the former “Red Light” of Montreal, a historic site that goes back to the early 1800s. At the end of the 19thcentury, the district attracted large establishments such as Saint Sulpice and St. Mary’s College. Between the 1920s and early 1960s, Montreal was able to build a reputation as a festive city, attracting many tourists. The American prohibition during 1920-1933, contributes to Montreal’s attractiveness and also created favourable conditions for the proliferation of organized crime, prostitution, and illegal gambling houses. In 2001, several representatives of the cultural community had proposals to boost the cultural scene in Montreal. During this time, the idea of Quartier des Spectacles arrived, acting as a project to anchor festivals downtown and showcase the cultural institutions and theatres in Montreal. Quartier des Spectacles was initiated a year later, involving many consultations to define a development vision for the Quartier.

(Quartier des Spectacles, n.d.)


There were ten main goals of the Quartier des Spectacles:

-A neighbourhood in harmony

-A space for constant creation, innovation, production and diffusion

-An international creative and cultural hub

-A street that leads to discovery

-A unified neighbourhood that connects with the rest of Montréal

-A public domain that expresses the arts

-Architecture and urban design that functions for cultural activities

-A unique and iconic signature

-A contemporary and vibrant character

-A partnership that continually promotes the vision of the neighbourhood

(Quartier des Spectacles, n.d.)


Place des Festivals, the first phase of the Quartier des Spectacles is bordered by rue Sainte-Catherine to the south and the Maison du Festival de Jazz and future projects to the west. The east is rue Jeanne-Mance and the blank façade of the Musée d’art Contemporain. The design of The Vitrines Habitées responded to and provided a solution to this introverted building.

Set on a 10-metre sidewalk created as part of the Place des Festivals, these glass and aluminum structures are 40 metres long and 4 metres wide with a street-side terrace. All services and technical spaces are below grade level. Each restaurant has a seating capacity of 60 with an additional 60 places available on the terrace, allowing the buildings to reap the maximum benefit with a minimal footprint.

The Vitrines are highly transparent to increase the immateriality of the buildings. The architectural scheme strives to create a monolithic extrusion carefully designed to hide the structure and mechanical systems which would have compromised the purity of the gesture.

Bands of glass wrapping the walls and roof punctuate the aluminum extrusions. The strategy of opacity and transparency projects the users into the outdoors and allows pedestrians to view into and through the restaurants. The west facades, responding to the presence of the public space, have large sliding walls that open up the visual interaction. By night, the Vitrines become a part of the spectacle on the Place.

Place des Festivals takes its cues from the theatrical heritage of the neighbourhood, magnifying the stage to the scale of the city.

(Daoust Lestage, 2017)


In the Quartier des Spectacles, Daoust Lestage took on the project from start to finish, from the overall plan – the design of the public spaces – to the smallest details of street furniture and lighting. The Quartier international was no different. In the late 1990s, they took an empty, characterless neighbourhood, and turned it into one of their most successful projects. The team at Daoust Lestage completely removed the urban fabric of this neglected area between downtown and Old Montréal, scarred by the Ville-Marie expressway. They transformed Square Victoria from top to bottom, created Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, and designed the Caisse de dépôt building. “Building over the expressway presented enormous technical challenges,” says Renee Daoust. “What most people don’t realize is that we made our first drawings in 2000, and in 2003, the 760,000sq. ft building was done. That is very, very fast.”

(Daoust Lestage, 2017)


Daoust Lestage - From city to object. (2017, March 13). Retrieved from https://www.mixtemagazine.ca/en/society/daoust-lestage-from-city-to-object/

Quartier des spectacles. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.quartierdesspectacles.com/fr/a-propos/histoire-et-vision/

Ville de Montreal – Quartier des Spectacles – Project d’amengement. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=7917,86039607&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL


As a cultural metropolis and UNESCO City of Design, Montréal draws upon its creativity and vitality to foster growth and define its place in the world. Le Quartier des Spectacles provides Montréal with:

-80 cultural venues

-450 cultural organizations

-45,000 jobs

-6000 residents

-2350 dwellings

-47,000 students

(Ville de Montreal, N.d.)


One of the most significant challenges of this project was to create an outdoor theatre both for the festival season and for healthy urban life during the rest of the year. The balance of hard and soft landscaping and vertical markers is essential. The planting of mature trees and implementation of signature lighting elements form the walls and ceiling of the stage and act as festive urban markers, confirming the presence of the Quartier des Spectacles within the city’s fabric.

(Daoust Lestage, 2017)


In 2002, the forces of the community united at the Montreal Summit to recognize and counter the fragility and precariousness of Montreal’s downtown and cultural districts. The theatres are still victims of the competition from modern facilities outside the city centre. The creation of a redevelopment strategy, including several significant projects, allowed the process of bringing the arts and culture back into Montreal. The redevelopment of the Place des Arts sector, in the Quartier des shows, is the most visible intervention among all those planned to shape this vision. The City of Montreal has undertaken the redevelopment of the entire public domain around Place des Arts in four phases, with the pursed orientations including supporting and expressing the neighbourhood’s cultural vocation, making it a world-class destination, and turning the neighbourhood into a space that facilitates a balanced and attractive life.

(Quartier des Spectacles, n.d.)


The Quartier des Spectacles is known as a harmonious cohabitation of the diversity of residents and different functions – community, student life, arts, place of passage, international destination, etc. The Quartier des Spectacles is at the junction of economic, cultural, and urban prosperity.

(Quartier des Spectacles, N.d.)


In 2008, Mayor Gerald Tremblay stated that the project would come in as budgeted at $120-million and spur development in the immediate neighbourhood for a projected total of $1.9 billion in private investment.

In June 2012, it was reported by the Montréal Gazette that the cost of the district’s public spaces would be $147 million, with $67 million from the City of Montréal and $40 million each from provincial and federal governments. In 2011, Montréal's auditor-general criticized the city for hand-picking one non-profit corporation, Angus Development, to build the 2-22 building and redevelop Saint-Laurent Blvd. and for failing to open the process up to tender, therefore losing money by selling city land at below market value. Inadequate foundations, damage, and wrong choice of joint sealers in 2011 also led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in repaving costs.

(Quartier des Spectacles, n.d.)