Montreal does it better. While new North American housing is increasingly defined by stark dichotomies in density, the Quebec city is quietly introducing “missing-middle” typologies throughout its core. Just south of Plaza Saint-Hubert’s covered sidewalks, a modestly scaled mixed-use building by architects L. McComber epitomizes Montreal’s characteristically sensitive additions to the urban fabric.
Playfully dubbed “Off Plaza,” the three-storey edifice meets the sidewalk with a façade of extruded Saint-Marc limestone. Widely used in Quebec since the early 19th century, the stone evokes many of the city’s older buildings. At Off Plaza, the otherwise flat exterior is accented by an elegant tapestry of protruding bricks with textured profiles, which visually integrates the facade with the slightly shorter neighbouring storefronts on either side. This contemporary statement also speaks to context and history.
At street level, subtle landscaping fronts a pair of small commercial spaces – one of which houses L. McComber’s own office. The pared down spaces are light-filled and airy despite being slightly recessed below grade, maintaining generous views of the sidewalk. To give the architects a sense of privacy, they arranged dining tables to overlook the street and clustered workstations slightly further from the windows.
“We wanted a space that would be just like us,” say the architects, describing their new office. “Sober but elegant, the interiors are designed for our needs.” In fact, L. McComber conceptualized nearly all of the furniture in order to create a truly bespoke workspace.
Eight residential condominiums occupy the two upper levels above the offices. Four of the suites are family-sized three-bedroom units, each organized as a two-storey space topped by a private terrace. A network of staircases and terraces overlooking an intimate central courtyard offers residents a quiet but neighbourly ambiance that’s secluded from the bustle of the street.
Simultaneously discreet and prominent, Off Plaza is a graceful addition to Saint-Hubert Street. On a compact site, the nimble combination of residential and commercial uses introduces density and vitality while celebrating the scale and rhythm of the surroundings. It’s a new building, but one that’s instantly recognizable as Montreal.
As block-long stick-frame mid-rises and soaring glass towers transform American cities, and swathes of single-family homes continue to stretch further into the exurban distance, Montreal has embraced deftly scaled missing-middle typologies, ranging from live-work homes to small apartment buildings. Off Plaza is just one example.
In recent years, the city’s infill evolution is reflected by projects including Maison Atelier by yh2 architectes, as well as ADHOC’s larger Le Jardinier apartment complex. Promoting pedestrian-oriented living on an intimate scale, many of Montreal’s recent developments offer the missing-middle densities rarely found in other North American cities. L. McComber’s own portfolio is a case in point; it’s hard to imagine projects like MileEndeur, La Passe à Drolet – or for that matter, Off Plaza – being built anywhere else.
As one of the older major cities on the continent, Montreal’s built form largely predates automobile suburbs and downtown parking lots. In the 21st century, however, the Quebec metropolis is no stranger to high-rise living, highways, and suburban sprawl. But following the dramatic suburbanization of North American cities after World War II, Montreal has not forgotten life before the automobile. In other words, it’s well prepared for life after it.
Designed by L. McComber, the three-storey Off Plaza deftly combines office spaces and family living.