Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal recently launched a vast redevelopment project to offer its millions of pilgrims and visitors an exceptional spiritual, cultural and tourist experience. At the heart of the project, new visitor facilities designed by Lemay have again been recognized, with an excellence award from Azure Magazine’s international AZ Awards. This follows an excellence award by respected magazine Canadian Architect earlier this year.
“We are delighted the jury members appreciated our vision for this Montreal icon,” said Lemay Partner Andrew King, project director and design principal with the firm.
The awards both recognize the spectacular and modern reimagining of the 61-bell carillon, unique in Quebec, as well as respectful and harmonious integration with the visitor pavilion and pilgrimage services. The latter include a large new pedestrian zone named “Place de la Sainte-Famille.”
Since the construction of the first chapel in 1904, the site of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal has been welcoming pilgrims and people of faith from around the world. Steeped in the natural and heritage significance of Mount Royal, revered as a historic site of great importance, it ranks among the province’s most-visited tourist destinations. This latest upgrade further defines a master development plan produced in the early 2000s, with the aim of improving accessibility and signage as well as pedestrian and motorist safety. The iconic project demanded an architectural and landscape response respectful of conservation principles while enhancing the site’s existing assets.
In complement to the traditional architecture of the Oratory and its facilities, the architectural reflection centred on the creation of an entirely accessible journey, resembling a procession, fulfilling visitors’ desire for a unique, spiritual and unforgettable experience.
“The Oratory is a great place of peace and a source of international outreach,” said Rector Fr. Claude Grou, CSC. “This next phase of the project will allow us to offer Montrealers and visitors from around the world a greener, more welcoming and more accessible site. It will reinforce the Oratory’s standing as a place of welcome that promotes contemplation and reflection.”
A new urban icon, the carillon is showcased as part of a serene and contemplative journey that celebrates light and ascension; its occasional music envelops the sense of movement in an acoustic embodiment of the spirit of place. The wooden ceiling connecting the carillon and the Oratory entrance, at the summit of the visitor circuit, heightens the instrument’s materiality in a grand architectural gesture that both echoes and harmonizes with the surrounding natural environment.
The visitor pavilion
Integrated with the mountain’s natural landscape through a concrete incision into the escarpment, the visitor pavilion and its glass envelope merge the indoor and the outdoor in a celebration of faith, nature and architecture, larger than life. This subordinate gesture balances the carillon structure and outdoor tiers, offering a place for pause and reflection, particularly during concerts featuring the carillon.
The assembly of the main façades in glass and gabion is inspired by traditional stained glass windows and the igneous rock produced by excavations, creating a metaphorical connection between the essence of Mount Royal and this major pilgrimage site. The effect of this layering is a filtered luminousness that permeates the interiors like an ephemeral tableau. While certain support services are tucked out of sight, this light remains omnipresent and offers everyone inside, no matter where, stunning views of a unique mountain location.
The architectural design, which conveys both restraint and a sense of openness, also accentuates a dialogue with the City, as a tourist attraction and an emblem of the site.
Respect for the environment
The design incorporates the latest sustainable development principles, for a positive impact on the environment. To this end, excavated materials, locally manufactured materials and those with a high degree of recycled content, as well as FSC wood, were given preference. Reduced energy and drinking water consumption was also prioritized, as were responsible construction waste management and the creation of lush green islands. Electric vehicle charging stations are planned as part of the parking layout, as are bicycle racks. The project is aiming for LEED© certification, a clear sign of dedication to sustainable development. The conservation of natural habitats, as part of work on Mount Royal’s natural environment, will also be a key consideration for this project that is due to start next September.