Designing an observation deck experience
A month has come and gone since the grand opening of one of our biggest projects of 2016: Au Sommet Place Ville Marie. As the dust settles, and a handful of unfinished details remain to be tended to, we take a moment to sit down with Fabien Lasserre, Head of Plans and Specifications at GSM, who’s been following the project since its very inception.
As part of the creative team, Fabien greatly contributed to the concept and design of the observation deck experience, from the overall journey up to the 46th floor, to the interior design of the café & boutique, the exhibition and the observatory itself. Spending months on site throughout the construction process, he ensured that the design was respected to the very last detail. Fabien’s also a killer photographer and managed to document the process with a Yashika T4 film camera he carried with him every step of the way.
Back in 2013
To get the ball rolling on the project, we set ourselves two main objectives. First, we wanted to create an experience that would resonate with locals and tourists alike. And second, it was essential that the design highlight the building’s heritage value. Fabien explains that the design team was very aware that the spectacular view awaiting on the 46th floor was the crown jewel of the project. In other words, it was essential that the design enhance the visitor’s experience of it rather than create any form of distraction.
Designing the Journey to the Top
To achieve this, we developed a visitor journey from the café & boutique all the way to the observatory on the 46th floor. Faced with the reality that it would be structurally impossible that one elevator ride take visitors all the way to the top, we used this limitation in our favor to heighten the experience. Fabien explains that the idea was to disrupt the visitor’s expectations. So, rather than one quick journey, the visitor is guided through a series of somber hallways and two sets of elevators.
On the 43rd floor, where a long hallway guides visitors from one elevator to the next, use of black oxidized metal, dim lighting, and a dark ambiance make reference to the guts of the building, creating a feeling of travelling behind the scenes to arrive at the very top. "It’s only when the elevator doors open up onto the observatory that the suspense is broken and visitors are hit with a flood of light pouring in from all four sides of the building."
The Observation Deck
Central to the concept was the idea of highlighting the nobility of the observation deck- the highest point in the city accessible to the public. It was also the perfect opportunity to highlight the building’s modernist aesthetic and heritage value. As Fabien describes, "clean lines, white ceramic floors, reflective glass walls and floor to ceiling windows leave the visitor feeling completely immersed in the view of Montreal."
In contrast, what we call the heart of the observatory, forming an inner cross just like the building itself, is warm and welcoming and suited with a luxurious red carpet. Creating a feeling of nostalgia, it is home to a photographic exhibition that recounts the history of the iconic building.
A Couple of Bumps in the Road
Developing a visitor experience of this kind came with its own set of limitations. For one, we were faced with the challenge of transporting all materials by way of an elevator. There were also several surprises along the way which meant that we sometimes had to improvise, adapting the design on site to maintain the momentum of the construction process. For example, in order to create a seamless transition from the 46th floor down to the interactive exhibition on the 45th, a large hole was cut into the slab to construct a staircase. However, discovering a few structural limitations between the two floors, once the process had already begun, we had no choice but to adapt the design, making the staircase smaller than planned.
Speaking with Fabien about the design concept for #MTLGO, he explains that it was developed to fit within the limited space available. The team decided to bring the visitor experience to the outer edges of the room. As the visitor circulates from one screen to the next, the stories illustrate a magnified perspective of the view beyond the glass windows. The 55 portraits of Montreal bring the exhibition to life, sparking a conversation about the city and its people.