In downtown Toronto, a new kind of creative design hub is born. On the fourth floor of an understated Adelaide Street office tower, a sculptural ribbon weaves together a dynamic new office for award-winning architectural practice and integrated design firm Lemay. Evoking a safety pin, the sinuous form frames the the office with a bold yet elegant presence, signalling the sociable, creative-centric milieu that defines the studio.
Designed by Chief Design Officer Andrew King, the ribbon is at once an informal shared space and a destination for everything from individual work to client meetings and charettes. It’s the centrepiece of an office conceived for the future of creative collaboration: a clear departure from corporate office programming, the flexibly configured space invites the friendly, trans-disciplinary teamwork that shapes the Lemay brand.
A distillation of the company’s evolving culture, the project was — even before the pandemic — designed “in the cloud,” harnessing seamless online collaboration between Lemay’s offices in Montreal and Calgary. And while the innovative space is the product of cutting-edge design practices, it’s also a reflection of the evolving identity for the storied Canadian design firm.
Founded in Montreal in 1957, Lemay has evolved into one of Canada’s leading design brands. Today, the company has 450 employees, with offices in Montreal, Quebec City, New York, Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton. Boasting a diverse and growing portfolio of projects around the world, Lemay’s work includes everything from marquee libraries and cultural centres to innovative transit hubs and public spaces, as well as a wide range of commercial and hospitality projects.
“We design for the public,” says Senior Partner and Design Principal Eric Pelletier, describing a philosophy that is defined by the synthesis of a bespoke, design-driven approach with exceptional technical expertise. Combining the bold, progressive sensibilities of a boutique studio with the capabilities of the world’s leading firms, Lemay asserts a distinct presence in the Canadian — and North American — design industry. Pelletier puts it more concisely: “We deliver design quality and deliver the project.”
In Montreal, The Phenix is a case in point. After sitting abandoned for over a decade, the long-neglected mid-century warehouse at 3500 Rue Saint-Jacques was revived as The Phenix, a sustainable design lab that serves as the new headquarters for Lemay. A distillation of Lemay’s principles, The Phenix is a showcase of thoughtful of adaptive reuse and sustainable design innovation. A test bed for Lemay’s emerging Net Positive design approach, the 8,000-square-metre complex was designed to minimize waste and embodied carbon while enhancing the health and wellness of its occupants.
The sustainable — and highly energy-efficient — Zero Carbon-certified building practices go hand in hand with creating a healthy, welcoming environment that supports workplace wellness. Greenery, natural ventilation and large, operable windows maintain a connection with the outdoors, while an in-house gym, ample bicycle parking and an active layout that encourages movement and interaction throughout the day. Ample sociable spaces — including the landscaping that knits The Phenix into its urban context. Flanked by generous outdoor seating and new landscaping, the once desolate building is elegantly woven back into its urban milieu.
Like Lemay’s Toronto hub, The Phenix embodies a feeling of “friendliness and hospitality” that defines the firm across all six offices says Chief Marketing Officer Robert Fiorino. From Quebec and Montreal to New York and Toronto, “many of our best meetings happen over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine,” says Fiorino. It’s an approach that also informs the firm’s relationships with partners and developers around the world — and one that nourishes sociable, community-driven design.
It’s also an ethos that shapes the newly completed Humaniti complex. A vertical city in the heart of Montreal, the high-rise community combines a luxury hotel, rental apartments, boutiques and public spaces into the city’s tallest mixed-use project. Designed by Lemay, with interiors by New York’s Lemay + Escobar branch, the H-shaped complex deftly combines a range of uses and design office to create a welcoming destination with a distinctly street-friendly urban presence. Inside, bold geometric gestures are elegantly paired with tranquil, humanistic touches to create a distinct sense of place.
From the upcoming Bellechasse Transport Centre — which was recognized with an Award of Merit at the 2020 AZ Awards — to the revitalization of Quebec City’s Grand Theatre and the reinvention of Montreal’s legendary Expo 67, humanism and design innovation touches every part of the Lemay portfolio. Whether it’s a bus bay or an iconic theatre, Lemay’s principles shine through. Today, the firm’s international footprint encompasses everything from showpiece residential projects in Manhattan to a striking oceanfront promenade planned for Casablanca, Morocco.
Across Canada and around the world, Lemay’s portfolio reflects a continually evolving commitment to sustainable placemaking and community-building. And it’s not resting on its laurels. Defined by the critical thinking that emerges from meaningful and inclusive collaborative process, the firm’s integrated research arm, FLDWRK, operates at the intersection of research, academia and practice, moving beyond the limits of normative design practice as a necessary response to the urgency of today’s challenges.
But even as Lemay stakes an increasingly global and multi-disciplinary presence, the firm retains a distinctly Canadian design identity. The firm’s celebration of “northern design” is expressed in a commitment to environmental stewardship and the creation of generous, welcoming spaces that sensitively respond to their cultural and environmental context.
Appropriately, Lemay’s evolving roots continue to grow out of Montreal. At Frédéric-Back Park, the spirit shines through in a restorative project that captures the dangerous gases emitted by a former landfill while creating a new destination for visitors. An experimental yet meticulously well considered project (undertaken in collaboration with Morelli Designers), the new landscape introduces 250 spherical biogas-capturing wells that respond to soil movements and absorb sunlight throughout the day, emitting a soft, surreal glow in the evenings.
At once a powerful branding initiative and an innovative environmental remediation, the striking wells foster an inviting and almost otherworldly ambiance. In other words, it’s northern design — and Montreal refinement — par excellence. “It’s all about being warm and inclusive,” says Pelletier, “and always being inspired by our surroundings.”
Today, a commitment to diversity and inclusive placemaking is driving Lemay beyond the limits of normative design thinking. As a necessary response to the urgency of today’s challenges, the firm’s radically trans-disciplinary approach situates spatial design beyond merely buildings and the built environment, integrating branding, digital and graphic elements — and critical research — to transform the scope of architectural practice.
Ultimately, it means thinking of space as more than an architectural construct. For Lemay, spaces are brands, social and economic systems — and vectors of humanity and emotion. Interior, exterior, physical, digital or graphic, Lemay’s spaces are opportunities for sustainable and meaningful beauty. And spaces to grow.
This content was published by Azure on behalf of Lemay.
As the leading Canadian firm continues to grow and evolve, a commitment to sustainable placemaking shapes Lemay’s integrated design practice.