From 1894 to 2019: The Conversion of a Historic Building
Partner architect Anh Le Quang and Marion Thiébaux from NEUF architect(e)s worked with designer Nicole Vekemans to highlight the remarkable character of this historic building. According to Marion Thiébaux: ‘’Giving new life to this unique landmark that has been part of Montreal’s urban landscape for almost 125 years is an accomplishment we are very proud of. These major restoration efforts not only renew the building’s function but also make it more accessible to the public.’’
Henry Birks & Sons was one of the first businesses established around Phillips Square, along with Morgan’s department store (now Hudson’s Bay) and Montreal’s first art gallery. The era’s wealthy clientele was thus drawn to the square, encouraging other businesses to settle in this location. The commercial evolution of St-Catherine Street continues to this day, embracing a more inclusive audience.
Storefront windows that had been replaced or partially obstructed over time were restored. Over the years, several park-facing windows had been condemned by the addition of an elevator shaft to the interior façade of the building. The shaft was relocated to the interior of the building, restoring their transparency and the visual connection to the Square. The upper floors, previously the business’ office space, were converted into 132 hotel rooms. A two-storey glass volume now crowns the building – a subtle intervention that respectfully contrasts the richly ornamented façade while evoking the original diamond workshop. Below grade, obsolete mechanical rooms and vaults were converted into a spa. Finally, the new restaurant Henri Brasserie Française, conceived by Jean Salette in collaboration with l’Atelier Zébulon Perron, occupies a portion of the ground floor facing the Square.
The architects sought to preserve existing historical elements while updating the building systems to correct serious deficiencies. The original plaster mouldings adorning the ceiling were preserved by installing a specialized sprinkler system, necessary to accommodate the building’s new use. When creating the room layout, existing columns were carefully considered and integrated into the plans; each room is thus unique and has its own distinctive quality. Great attention to detail was paid not only to aesthetic elements but also to vital components that would ensure the building’s longevity.
By evoking the past of a business and individual that have both left marks on Montreal’s history, NEUF successfully reasserts the presence of Edward Maxwell’s iconic Phillips Square landmark. These efforts have ensured the Henry Birks & Sons’ building will continue to stand out in the city’s cultural landscape for generations to come.
Crédits photos: Adrien Williams