Hélène Desmarais Building – HEC Montréal

Founded in 1907, HEC Montréal is a business school affiliated with the Université de Montréal. It trains students in all fields of management.

Thanks to its exceptional teaching, it has become a leading educational and research institution, attracting students from well beyond Québec’s confines. The school has experienced an extraordinary growth since opening its second building on chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine in 1996 with, among other things, a 64% increase in students and 108% increase in its further training activities for executives and professionals.

To counter its lack of space and continue its expansion, HEC Montréal will thus establish a presence at the heart of downtown Montreal’s business district, next to the Saint Patrick Basilica, on the block bounded by Boulevard René-Lévesque Ouest, Beaver Hall Hill, De La Gauchetière Street and Saint-Alexandre Street. For the educational institution, multidisciplinary firm Provencher_Roy has conceived a 24,000 m2 contemporary intervention set within a contrasting urban fabric, delicately and respectfully juxtaposed with the heritage site and its green environment.


Candidate for a Silver LEED Certification






HEC Montréal

Surface Area

24,000 m²



A creative process informed by the requirements of the site

To begin with, the design team was faced with a singular topography characterized by a marked change in elevation of 9 to 10 metres. Stringent constraints arising from the regulations governing urban insertion and neighbouring properties also influenced the concept. Indeed, for the northeast portion of the lot, the buildable height could not exceed the level of the church’s roof. Towards Beaver Hall Hill, the contiguity of the lots necessitated blind lateral walls and a right of way granting access to the rear of the neighbouring lot. Finally, it was imperative that views onto the basilica be maintained. Consultations were held at key stages with public authorities and local residents. A co-design workshop involving representatives from HEC Montréal’s various stakeholder groups, heritage experts, members of the business community and residents was also organized. These actions were meant to ensure the project’s harmonious reception to put forth a proposal that was met with consensus.

A bold concept

The pavilion concept is centered around three themes: dynamism, lightness, and respect for the site.

The first results in a building with a contemporary style that is reflected in the choices made with respect to insertion, massing and materials. The second is manifested by a building that integrates into the existing framework in a manner that contrasts with the heavy massing of the older buildings. Finally, the third consideration opens up a dialogue between the new intervention, the city, and the basilica with its green environment.

The insertion and massing of the building follow the site’s contour lines. The angular facade of the east wing allows for perspectives onto the basilica. The northeast facade looks skyward, conferring lightness to the new building, while the southeast facade, inversely inclined, reflects the green surroundings and helps the building blend into its environment. The southwest facade is similarly inclined, accompanying in parallel the sweep of the garden facade and maximizing sunshine for the interior spaces. Finally, a V-shaped opening accentuates the entrance along Rue De La Gauchetière.

A concept that leverages the site’s dual nature

The morphology and treatment of the new building’s facades produce two distinct characters, corresponding to the site’s two opposite faces.

On one side, the facades are in dialogue with the urban panorama: Inserted into the existing built environment, they are integrated into the overarching orthogonality of the site and establish their presence through coverings that espouse the architectural idiom of the vicinity: glass, metal and masonry, in an array of clear colours. They are comprised of horizontal layers that ensure their harmonious juxtaposition alongside the neighbouring facades.

On the side looking out onto the basilica and the park, the facades are characterized by a more organic aspect and a fluid insertion, presenting a light, gleaming visage comprised of diverse fenestration in shades of white. At ground level, the building opens up thanks to wide, slender fenestration that offers multiple views and energizes and enlivens the site.

Circulation inside the building is oriented along two principal axes. The first begins at the De La Gauchetière entrance and rises gradually toward the northeast and the pedestrian entrance along Boulevard René-Lévesque. This latter entrance—inviting because of its generous vegetative cover—establishes HEC Montréal’s presence downtown by making a strong yet elegant statement. The second axis, perpendicular to the first, runs from the Beaver Hall entrance toward the basilica’s forecourt, connecting the city and the garden—urbanity and landscape.

The new building fully integrates the latest technologies in the service of learning, facilitating relations between academics and researchers from around the world. With its user-centric approach, the HEC Montréal campus is designed as a network of establishments for learning, research and dialogue between students, professors, staff and the business community in order to create a rich educational setting conducive to collaborative, immersive and interactive experiences.

A prestigious campus

The building’s insertion has been analyzed with a broad perspective that includes Saint Patrick’s Basilica. This approach has made it possible to forge a respectful bond between the sacred and the profane, to emphasize the rich heritage of the site, and to anchor HEC Montréal downtown prestigiously. The building, whose facilities integrate the vestiges of Saint Bridget’s Refuge (dating back to the 19th century) commemorated in descriptive or symbolic manner, opens out toward the sacred ground so as to create a haven for the campus.

The lower levels house the meeting and gathering functions and are easily accessible from each of the building’s three main entrances. Immediately above are the floors with the classrooms, thus concentrating a significant number of users at the building’s base. The upper levels are reserved for administrative functions, and also house the meeting rooms, classrooms and administrative offices of the Executive Education department. The research centre takes up the northwest wing; its ground floor features spaces dedicated to collaborative work, a genuine showcase for HEC Montréal’s innovation and vitality. Finally, an atrium window in the centre of the building provides natural illumination that serves as the building’s DNA.