Skip to content

Montreal’s swoopy Olympic Tower renovated as office space

Anyone who says that a building has to be demolished because the plan doesn't suit modern uses is either lying or incompetent. Just look at this.

One of the greatest white elephants in the world of architecture is the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Designed by French architect Roger Taillibert, it went vastly over budget and the retractible roof never worked. But it is one of the most dramatic precast concrete buildings in the world. It has a dramatic leaning tower that was designed to support the roof, which also enclosed office space that has been empty since it was completed in 1987.

big open office space© Stéphane Brügger via V2com

Now this Olympic Tower has been renamed the Montreal Tower, and has been renovated by Provencher_Roy Architects, and is now home to a thousand employees of Quebec financial institution Desjardins. Alex Bozikovic describes it in the Architectural Record:

This thoughtful use of the tower is part of the resurgence of the Olympic site, which was troubled from the start… And yet the stadium is the most recognizable building in the city; it captures the big dreams of midcentury in concrete. Unlike many of its equivalents in other Olympic cities, the whole complex, located next to two subway stops, remains in active use. A multisport facility, including a pool, operates next door; Taillibert’s indoor bicycle arena, or Vélo­drome, was converted into the Biodôme, part of a science museum now under renovation.

Open space in building lobby© Stéphane Brügger via V2com

Provencher Roy’s Richard Noël tells Bozikovic that “nothing about this was simple. Office uses usually demand regular floor plates, which the building does not have: it is a thin, triangular tower that shrinks and shifts as it rises to a cantilevered tip.”

typical floor plan Montreal Tower© Provencher Roy via V2com

That's what's so interesting about this project. So often we hear that an existing building has to be demolished because it doesn't meet modern standards for floor plate size and shape, “Yet the renovation’s design resolves this tension with careful space planning, and it takes advantage of the building’s Olympic history to create an attractive sense of place.”

crazy spaces adapted for office use© Stéphane Brügger via V2com

Really if they can make these crazy spaces work for your typical office functions, any building can. Bozikovic notes that they actually make a virtue out of necessity here: “Niches between the columns are stocked with chairs for solitary work as well as booths lined in a gray felt for small-group meetings. These areas enjoy fantastic views over Montreal’s east end.”

meeting area montreal tower© Stéphane Brügger via V2com

According to the V2com press release, the bank attracts a young crowd.

The place is articulated as a working tool, with the ultramodern offices incorporating the latest technological equipment in order to attract and meet the needs of employees aged 25 to 35. The lounges, entertainment areas, coffee counters and multifunctional rooms were designed specifically for a young and active clientele. The streamlined and the contemporary styles of its’ interior design creates for Desjardins employees a strong sense of belonging, transforming the development of a “workplace” into a real “living space”.

Corridor space showing old structure© Stéphane Brügger via V2com

Jane Jacobs wrote that “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.” I modified it to suggest that “young people need old buildings” – you don't find a vinyl record store or a tattoo parlour in a new office building lobby. Now I learn that young people working in call centres need old buildings too. This is good news for our existing building stock.

Anyone who says that a building has to be demolished because the plan doesn't suit modern uses is either lying or incompetent. Just look at this.