Underground city of Montreal (RESO) – History of Construction

Many reasons caused the rapid development of the underground part of Montreal. One of them was renting the land that remained after the construction of underground structures. The city knowingly reserves the larger parts of the land then it is required for construction of above ground entrance to the station to save the city from unsafe blocks.

Further the municipality starts tender for the right of the development, allowing renting the rest of the territory to the companies with the best projects. Coordination Council was erected for tender out and to regulate these processes, the Council includes planners, engineers, architects, social associations etc.  All the official renting papers stated minimal requirements if the maximum heights of the buildings, their squares, obligations of granting access from the streets to the metro, from metro to the trade centers and the streets. 

The first project of that kind, being implemented in 1963, was the highest business center Place Ville Marie. There was a significant economic growth of Montreal in 60-es, the appearance of the city had been changing, the transport infrastructure developed. After the construction of the Central Railway Station and Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth Hotel there was a piece of land of 4 acre left, which belonged to Donald Gordon, the President of the Canadian National Railway. It was decided to build here the Place Ville Marie, which had access to the Metro system of the city.

Business-center Place Ville Marie construction

Business-center Place Ville Marie at present

Tunnels and stations of the Montreal metro were constructed with ‘cut-and-cover’ method, so the extra space left. But it was not filled, instead it was used for joining the space of the stations with  mezzanine floors, which were 2nd and 3rd levels of underground parts of the trade centers.  During the period of 1984-1989  underground network expanded to 21 km. The following metro stations were constructed: McGill, Pee, along with large trade centers. That is the way the underground infrastructure of Montreal appeared to serve for more comfort living and business development.  

Above the ground level part of the Place-des-Arts

Entrance to an underground concert hall Place-des-Arts (source:  MAC website )

Noteworthy, the General Plan has not been developed for 45 years of construction of underground city.  The commercial oriented underground floors of the buildings started to be included into the plan since 1990, floors above the metro stations and entrances to the metro system from the street level excluding. The construction of underground city of Montreal came as a result of alteration of separate projects later joined into one solid space. The main obstacle was in private property borders. It was allowed, according to the law, using the underground space under any land but only deeper then 10 m.  If the planned line or any other underground structure is located less than 10 m deep, the city had to buy the land above as well. In order to change the situation, municipalities have decided to establish a limited zoning. The contract regulates relationship between the investor and the municipality, granting developers and investors some privileges in the area of Land Use and Development Regulation.

In exchange they develop the projects of construction and renovation, aiming to create underground public places with a direct access to the metro stations and halls of the existing buildings. It became a great tool for RESO development, a lot of projects being implemented thanks to these conditions.

At the same time, the Department of Public Works and Government Services holds the right to contract developers on the permanent or temporal rent of public underground spaces, which includes the full list of developer’s technical and financial responsibilities.  Rent charge on underground space is determined basing on the   market value of the land, situated in this district of Montreal.

Wall-painting commemorating 20 anniversary of the World Trade Centre, Artists: Rafael Sottolichio, Olivier Roy (http://www.centredecommercemondial.com/en)

An important factor for the development of RESO was the sale of the old roads to developers for the construction of major business and shopping centers. The owners of the other lands along the road had to agree to its closure, so the municipality had the opportunity to make changes in the city zoning structure. After that the city got the possibility to lend the land to the developers, who took the task of construction of the tunnel and gave access through the building.

Underground crossing between Eaton Centre and Place Montreal Trust (source: Richard Osmann website)

At present the use of all the underground space for commercial purposes are the part of the General Plan of Montreal, helping the city’s development. Floors above the metro stations become the bonus as well as the halls of the metro stations. Efficient interaction between city government and private sector allowed creation of the unique pedestrian zone RESO, improved the transport and public infrastructure and investment climate of Montreal, while preserving the architectural appearance of the city.  

1.    Principals of underground urban development: monograph V.L. Belyaaev; Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation,     Moscow State University of Civil Engineering,  2012. – 255.  
2.    Montreal official website Ville de Montreal http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=7317,79977650&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
3.    La ville souterraine de Montréal http://record-absolu.pagesperso-orange.fr/construction/montreal-reso/reso.htm
4.    Magazine «Grado» № 002/2011.
5.    Trade center Promenade de la Cathédrale official website http://promenadescathedrale.com/evenements-promotions-centre-commercants  
6.    Informational portal Les beautés de Montréal http://lesbeautesdemontreal.com/tag/reso/
7.    Metro of Montreal official website http://metrodemontreal.com/index-e.html