Urban Crossroads: Îlot Rosemont, Montreal, Quebec

A mixed-use social housing development sets a new benchmark for transit-oriented densification in Montreal.

This view facing south from Boulevard Rosemont shows the building in its immediate context. To the left, one can glimpse the light-coloured Bibliothèque Marc-Favreau and the red-brick cooperative housing behind it. A small plaza in front of Îlot Rosemont provides access to Rosemont subway station.

PROJECT Îlot Rosemont, Centre de services de l’Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal + Résidence des Ateliers, Montreal, Quebec

ARCHITECT Lapointe Magne et associés

TEXT Odile Hénault

PHOTOS David Boyer

Emerging from Montreal’s Rosemont subway station, these days, one may be in for a bit of a shock. Where there used to be a small pavilion with direct access to the subway system—and a generous turning loop for buses—there is now the strong presence of an L-shaped complex, eight storeys high along Rosemont Boulevard and ten storeys along St. Denis Street. This recent addition to Montreal’s highly eclectic urban fabric epitomizes the city’s progress towards promoting mixed-use, urban densification, and public transit. Translated into reality, this means a subway station-topping complex that offers affordable housing for 200 seniors, as well as holding the headquarters of the Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM)—a not-for-profit responsible for the management of some 880 buildings and close to 21,000 social housing units across the metropolis. 

A complex context

The building sits at the border between the Plateau Mont-Royal and Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, central boroughs which span either side of a long, curving CPR freight line. For decades, the 40,000-square-metre site to the north of the rail line was occupied by municipal works yards and workshops, which were gradually demolished over time. In 2006, a new Master Plan was adopted to redevelop the city-owned area, with an emphasis on both market housing and social housing, as well as on public amenities essential to support a new neighbourhood. During the following years, the area saw developments including Bibliothèque Marc-Favreau (Dan Hanganu architects, 2013), Quartier 54, a thoughtfully designed eight-storey condominium complex (Cardinal Hardy Beinaker architects, 2012) and the Coopérative du Coteau vert, a three-storey social housing project built around a central garden (L’Oeuf, 2010).

The last site on this major lot was earmarked for affordable and social housing. In 2013, Lapointe Magne & associés was mandated to design the project, which by then had grown in size to include the OMHM headquarters. One of the architects’ main challenges, apart from the actual building design, was to secure and harmonize the labyrinthine movements of pedestrians, bikes, buses, cars, and emergency vehicles gravitating on and around the site. To top it off, bordering the parcel is an underpass heading south, and an overpass going east. A strong urban gesture was needed. 

Access to the Résidence des Ateliers is located along St-Denis Street. Individual balconies and loggias on the upper seven levels provide residents with a strong connection to the surrounding neighbourhood. The bus loop is visible to the right of the entrance.

Shaping Îlot Rosemont

The architects’ mandate to renovate the existing subway access and integrate a bus terminal and turning loop was to have a major impact on the structure and the overall shape of the complex, as well as on its visual identity. Approaching the site, one is struck by the unexpected presence of giant V-shaped supports, zigzagging along the building’s perimeter. They form part of the intricate structural solution found by the engineers and architects as they looked to accommodate the large spans required by the public transit program, without compromising on the number of affordable units above. 

Large V-shaped supports lift the building off the ground floor to allow for the bus loop and terminal. Ochre-coloured perforated aluminum panels were introduced on the soffit and around the loop.

The 193-unit Résidence des Ateliers occupies the upper five levels of the complex’s east wing and the upper seven levels of its west wing. The exterior volume of the overall complex is softened by the introduction of balconies and loggias, which reveal the presence of its occupants. Most of the units are one-bedroom apartments, which were designed with care despite the strict budgetary constraints attached to subsidized housing: the Résidence des Ateliers is the 11th initiative of a city-sponsored program called Enharmonie, which targets low-income seniors. As it happens, Lapointe Magne was the first architecture firm to be hired when the program was launched, designing the Résidence Jean-Placide-Desrosiers (inaugurated in 2006; see CA, Feb. 2007), and later commissioned with the Résidence Alfredo-Gagliardi (2008), located above the busy Jean-Talon subway station. 

Given Îlot Rosemont’s peculiarly shaped site, the architects were able to avoid conventional, identical apartments and come up with almost 34 different unit types, all universally accessible. The lack of lavish budgets was compensated for by great attention to the treatment of spaces within the units and in commodious corridors with whimsical, oversized wayfinding graphics. Particular emphasis was put on light-filled communal and dining spaces. These were placed at the wings’ junction point in order to take full advantage of the obtuse angles generated by this irregular site. 

The main dining area in the Résidence des Ateliers offers generous views of the immediate surroundings. Low-budget, high-impact design touches include coloured flooring insets and chandelier-style lights.

These gathering spaces are also found on the office floors, where light abounds thanks to an open plan and high ceilings with exposed mechanical and structural elements, which are particularly impressive at the third level. The communal rooms, such as the south-facing cafeteria on the third floor, offer generous views of the immediate surroundings and of Mount Royal in the distance. The OMHM’s double-height reception area is directly accessible from St. Denis Street, in a spot some neighbours would have preferred to see given over to a more glamorous function. The choice made by the OMHM was to offer its equity-deserving clients a space with dignity, defying the possibility of NIMBY sentiments. 

The open staircase linking the top floors of the OMHM headquarters is located at the junction of the building’s east and west wings, facing Rosemont Boulevard. The presence of an angular wall reflects the site’s unusual configuration and enlivens the space.

A strong urban presence

Îlot Rosemont is a robust, unexpected object in the landscape. And it does take some getting used to, despite the looming presence across the road of a far bulkier structure built in 1972 for a then-rapidly expanding textile industry. Lapointe Magne’s response to this condition was to integrate the brutalist building by making it part of a symbolic gateway to an area of the city that is still undergoing major changes. In an effort to soften the transition towards the massive concrete volume, a dark brick—interspersed with subtle aubergine inserts and ochre finishes—was selected for the west wing of Îlot Rosemont. For the east wing, a contrasting white brick was adopted in homage to the much gentler Bibliothèque Marc-Favreau.  At ground level, the soffit and bus loop that run underneath the raised building are clad with ochre-colored perforated aluminum panels.

At the crossroads of Boulevard Rosemont and St. Denis Street, a canopy marks the entry to the OMHM’s headquarters, extending a dignified welcome to the housing agency’s clients.

Key to understanding this latest urban intervention is the eclectic nature of Montreal’s streetscapes. A certain appearance of unity is given by the residential neighbourhoods with their regular, orthogonal grid and their two- and three-storey-high rowhouses, known locally as duplexes and triplexes. Attempts at building anything that breaks away from tradition are often met with scepticism. Nonetheless, the need to densify the city around subway stations—and on any of Montreal’s innumerable vacant lots—creates valuable opportunities for planners and architects to propose new formulas.

What has been built in Rosemont-La-Petite Patrie since 2006 can definitely be called a success. In less than twenty years, a new urban environment has sprung up here, anchored by some 800 housing units, more than half of which are affordable or cooperative housing.  It is an exemplary showcase for the urban densification so often called for as a response to urban sprawl. Municipal leadership should be applauded for leading the way, by demonstrating how its own properties can be developed in ways that embrace complex programs and sites, as well as promoting affordable housing. Furthermore, the Îlot Rosemont and its immediate neighbours constitute a unique illustration of what committed, talented architects can contribute to their city—if and when there is political will.

Odile Hénault is a contributing editor to Canadian Architect.


CLIENT Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM) | ARCHITECT TEAM Lapointe Magne & Associés: Frédéric Dubé, Katarina Cernacek,  Pascale-Lise Collin , Alain Khoury,  Olivier Boucher,  Isabelle Messier-Moreau,  Esther Gélinas, Alizée Royer,  Frédérick Boily, Yves Proulx | STRUCTURAL  Tetratech | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL Norda Stelo | LANDSCAPE VLAN Paysages | INTERIORS Lapointe Magne et associés | CIVIL AECOM | CONTRACTOR Pomerleau | SIGNAGE/WAYFINDING Pastille Rose | AREA 24,560 m2  | BUDGET $91.2 M | COMPLETION November 2022


As appeared in the April 2024 issue of Canadian Architect magazine