Tranforming a Montreal Landmark — Sid Lee Architecture

Sid Lee Architecture makes Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth a star again in Montreal.

Interviews By Rebecca Alberico

In today’s frenetic world, there are very few buildings we consider foundations or icons in the ever-changing cityscape, where structures just 30 years old are replaced by newer and shinier ones. That rarity is the beauty and the treasure that is Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal. Like a great ocean liner, referred to as “she,” the Queen Elizabeth has held center stage in one of North America’s most international cities for close to 60 years.

She has hosted kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, Hollywood royalty and rock stars as a destination of choice and the personification of international style, elegance and service. She is, quite simply, one of the grandes dames of Canadian hotels. But even a grande dame must keep au courant; that job was entrusted to Sid Lee Architecture, which recently unveiled its work after a year of extensive renovations.

“Ivanhoé Cambridge asked us to think big picture on what could be done with the building; it really didn’t start as an interior design project,” says Martin Leblanc, principal with Sid Lee. “So we looked backwards. In the ’50s and ’60s Montreal was an international city with a vibe and positive energy. This hotel was very ambitious in that it would be the new downtown of Montreal and an international icon, and we wanted to return to that energy and spirit and reconnect the design to the will of its origins.”

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Sid Lee Architecture turned out to be the perfect choice as the renovations were revealed to positive acclaim this past summer. Originally a communications and branding company, it added its architectural element in 2009 as a natural extension of its creative abilities. And it gladly took on the challenge to reinvent the Queen Elizabeth as a hub and destination for businesses.

“If we were to create business meeting rooms in Montreal, we needed to look at how business is conducted in Montreal,” says Leblanc. “Montreal has many creative technology and gaming companies, and business meetings are very casual in nature, so we needed to create a tool that could work for them. We created open concepts with a contemporary feel where it’s possible to sit and have a casual meeting without having to formally book a meeting room. To be a business hotel in Montreal, you need to understand and fit with the way business is done in this city.”

With a large hotel of 950 rooms, it was also important for Sid Lee to create a certain flow to the multi-levels and enormous space. “We wanted a hotel which is an evolution from the lower levels upwards,” says Leblanc. “There are a lot of different spaces, but when you are walking through, it feels like a progression between design styles, which also reflects the many different types of people who visit, stay and use the hotel, and all of the different types of moments they experience.”

It was also important to Sid Lee, Ivanhoé Cambridge and Fairmont Hotels to stay true to the long and proud history of The Queen Elizabeth, which, among other notable events, was the site of the recording of “Give Peace a Chance” during John and Yoko’s “bed-in” in 1969.

“We wanted the design to reflect the Fairmont brand, as well as for the design to be reflective of the architecture and the era, and to be unique, inspiring and relevant,” says Leblanc.

Unique, inspiring and relevant. Three longstanding traits of the iconic Queen Elizabeth hotel, now brought gloriously back to life by Sid Lee Architecture.


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