If I say “Montreal” what image comes to your mind?

Magenta%20Stadium_2.jpgWhat do the Eiffel Tower, the US Capitol, Big Ben, the Acropolis, the Forbidden City, Christ the Redeemer, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Chateau Frontenac, the Sydney Opera House, the CN Tower, St-Basil’s Cathedral, Hagia Sophia, St-Peter’s Basilica, the Petronas Towers, and even the Hollywood Sign have in common?

They represent architectural icons that form a major part of their home city’s identity, something that Montreal clearly does not have.

To get a proper icon, two conditions are absolutely required (1) it has to be architecturally unique and (2) it has to be either visible from the city core or located in a centralized location. Other redeeming factors include (3) a close association with a major geographical feature, (4) a high symbolic/historical value and (5) the willingness of its host city to use it for its own marketing.

Building architectural icons is a challenge, for instance architectural originality cannot please everyone, that’s why it’s original. The other significant factor is cost, while there will always be hungry people in the streets, the benefits of an appropriate icon are harder to quantify. How to you precisely measure its impact on tourism or even something as theoretical as increased civic pride?

While Montreal has a lot of worthy geographical and architectural landmarks none of these really qualify as an icon that would be recognized the world’s over. The closest thing that we have is the Olympic Stadium but it fails miserably when it comes to location. Other candidates include the St-Joseph Oratory and the cross on Mont Royal but they don’t have that “visual punch” that would make them instantly recognizable.

In fact, the one building that could have made it is the Biosphere. It is indeed very original, visible from afar, centrally located, closely associated with the St-Laurence River and it was built during an important period in our history. Unfortunately its problem is one of marketing. As my wife aptly commented “there is nothing to do there”. That may not be entirely accurate but its current role as an environment museum simply isn’t cutting it.

[update] Metroblogging Kuala Lumpur argues that residents and non-residents often have a different view of what exactly constitutes an icon.

5 Comments so far

  1. Barry Welford (unregistered) on January 19th, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

    I believe the very best icon for Montréal is a natural one. We don’t need to spend large sums of public money to create an architectural icon. Mount Royal (with the cross) has all the features you’re looking for. Even a simple cartoon version of it would be instantly recognized by a goodly number of those who visit the city.


  2. Andre (unregistered) on January 19th, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

    I was thinking about putting in a paragraph about the mountain but the entry was already long enough as it is. I adore Mont Royal and it plays a huge part in making our city beautiful but it is not an icon. Many cities have been built near beautiful mountains (Vancouver, Denver, Chattanooga, Salt Lake City, etc…) and even the close proximity of a mountain to the downtown core isn’t unique to Montreal, Honolulu and Diamond Head Mountain comes to mind.

    And finally, Mont Royal doesn’t have such a distinct shape that a drawing of it would immediately be recognizable by somebody in, for example, Nebraska.


  3. Hamza (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 1:42 am

    The mountain itself is our monument, or simply any view from the mountain (try the one looking south on Peel.)

    And besides, all those cities suck anyway.


  4. Tamara (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 10:57 am

    I would definitely go for the shape of the Island of Montreal, that is like a croissant, or maybe along with Laval, looks like a kiss! I find the shape of the city pretty different from the rest. Or something that also makes me think of Montreal, are the triplexes and quadruplexes and quintuplexes…


  5. Marla Comm (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

    If anyone mentions “Montreal” I can’t think of anything other than potholes, “désolé or “out of order” signs, trash lying all over the place, the squirrels that feast on that trash, perpetually grey skies, icy sidewalks and snow-clogged streets with no sidewalks at all.

    Marla Comm, who is facing facts



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