Promise Ring: The Ring, Place Ville Marie, Montreal, Quebec

The capstone of the Place Ville Marie renovations frames vistas across a cross-section of Montreal history.

The 30-metre-diameter stainless steel ring fits snugly between Place Ville Marie’s north buildings and is suspended above a new grand staircase to the elevated plaza. Photo by Jean-François Savaria

PROJECT The Ring, Place Ville Marie, Montreal, Quebec

DESIGNER Claude Cormier et associés

TEXT Elsa Lam

When Place Ville Marie opened in downtown Montreal in 1962, the design, by Henry Cobb working with I.M. Pei, included an elevated grand plaza, bookended by equally grand staircases. One of those stairs—facing McGill Avenue and leading to the gates of McGill University—was displaced, for over 50 years, by an entrance to the complex’s underground parking.

In 2018, the current owner, Ivanhoe Cambridge, set out to revitalize the raised esplanade, working with Sid Lee Architecture to add massive skylights connecting the plaza to the restaurant spaces below, and restoring the north staircase as it had been originally designed. To cap off the $200-million project, the owner asked local landscape architecture firm Claude Cormier et associés to create an installation that would complete the space above the new grand stair.

The Ring frames a vista through Montreal’s past history, and also considers the future transformation of the site through the competition-winning concept design for “McGill College: Reinventing the Avenue,” developed by civiliti + Mandaworks with SNC-Lavalin for the Ville de Montréal. Section and plan by civiliti + Mandaworks with SNC-Lavalin for the Ville de Montréal

“We came up with the idea quite easily,” recalls Claude Cormier. His team wanted to reference the modernist grid of Cobb’s design, but offer a fresh take on it. A circular ring was the perfect fit for the space, fitting snugly in the 30-metre-wide opening, while providing enough clearance below for pedestrians to walk under it easily.

The Ring frames some 200 years of history, says Cormier. “At the end of the axis, we have McGill University, founded in 1821; in the back, we have Olmsted’s Mount Royal Park, from 1874, with the white cross, put up in 1950 to commemorate Maisonneuve, the founder of Montreal.”

The artistic installation was fabricated in Quebec, and transported to the site in six segments that were connected through concealed flanges. Photo courtesy Marmen

The preservation of the visual axis along Avenue McGill College also encompasses a more recent history, says Cormier. In 1984, Phyllis Lambert blocked a large mixed-use complex from being constructed in front of Place Ville Marie, he says. “She fought her own brother [the developer] to create this iconic moment in downtown Montreal.”

“For me, that’s what building a city is about—one thing after another, they all work together in resonance. Phyllis Lambert had a vision in her mind of something that was bigger,” says Cormier. “The Ring is trying to showcase that all together.”

The artistic installation also looks towards the future. The city’s central train station is nearby, and the Ring sits atop the location where a new set of underground municipal rail tracks will enter the station. Following the construction, Avenue McGill College will be reconstructed as a forest-like linear park designed by civiliti + Mandaworks and SNC-Lavalin.

The 23,000-kilogram ring is suspended from four points on the recently restored buildings. Photo Claude Cormier et associés

To create the Ring, the design needed to respond to many constraints, including minimizing impact to the newly renovated heritage towers. To achieve this, the team engaged NCK’s Franz Knoll—the structural engineer that had worked on the original Place Ville Marie, as well as landmarks including the Louvre Pyramid. Knoll devised a solution that touches the towers in just four places, pinching the building’s structure at its strongest points to support the 23,000-kilogram Ring.

Interior heating cables protect The Ring from ice and snow. Photo Claude Cormier et associés

Knoll also advised on the structure of the Ring itself, which takes shape as a self-supporting stainless steel cylinder, with 9.5 mm-thick walls on top and bottom, and 16 mm-thick walls at the sides. It was created in six segments, with connecting flanges hidden behind access doors. Inside the cylinder, 1,800 linear metres of heating cables assure that the installation will resist ice and snow accumulation. The 1-millimetre joints of the structure are virtually invisible, giving the resulting design the appearance of a pure, single form.

The project “has created a love interest in the media since it was unveiled,” says Cormier. But not all of that attention has been positive—its $5-million price tag has also been the subject of hot debate.

“Some people were really offended by this, doing something with no purpose,” says Cormier. But he says that while the Ring may not be strictly functional, it does indeed have purpose: “It creates identity, a notion of place, taking care of our city, investing in our city,” he says. “We were busy enough in making it work, but we had the feeling it was right.”

Client Ivanhoé Cambridge | Landscape Architect Team Claude Cormier et Associés: Claude Cormier, Sophie Beaudoin, Damien Dupuis, Yannick Roberge | Fabrication and Installation Advisor Claude Bernard – Formaviva Inc. | Lighting Designer Gilles Arpin – Ombrages / EP Éclairage Public | Structural Franz Knoll – NCK | Industrial Design Advisor Michel Dallaire | Masonry and Sealing COHÉSIO Architecture | Mechanical/Electrical Stantec | Technology Integration The Attain Group | Machining/Fabrication/Assembly Marmen Inc. | Tube Bending Bendtec | Building Work JCB Construction Canada | Wind RWDI | Electricity  Patrice Blain Entrepreneur Electricien | Blasting Sablage au Jet 2000 | Budget $5 M | Completion September 2022