Parks, Gardens & Squares
THE VERDUN URBAN BEACH
Verdun Borough & The City of Montreal
YEAR OF COMPLETION
Verdun, Québec, Canada
GBi, Civil, Electrical and Structural Engineering / Lasalle-NHC, Hydrology and ice behaviour / Amphibia-Nature, Biologists / Groupe ABS, Geotechnical Engineering
Montreal’s iconic Verdun Urban Beach tells the tale of positive and successful land reclamation, and transformation of a once-neglected wasteland into a vibrant, inviting, and much celebrated public realm. This contemporary and seamlessly integrated Landscape of celebration provides its visitors with 15,000sq.m of permeable, universally accessible, and versatile spaces to swim, relax, socialize, and enjoy the beautiful surrounding panorama.
First of its kind on the island of Montreal amidst growing trends of re-appropriation of the river and its banks, we had to proceed in a conscientious and responsible manner, all while setting the bar high and creating a solid precedent. The environment was the central and critical point of our reflections which dictated most of our actions and decisions. From inception to development then execution, our efforts constantly converged towards creating innovative approaches and methods to sustainability, community engagement, and ecological sensitivity. This continual research and questioning ultimately resulted in an outstanding model that would be followed and implemented by other boroughs and Landscape Architects throughout the city.
Porous and inviting, the Verdun Urban Beach unfolds on several plateaux, offering great versatility through its subspaces with varied levels of activity, intimacy, and ambiance. Existing vegetation was preserved, integrated, and enhanced, with only but a few breaches that opened access to water, reminiscent of beachgoers laying beach-towels on the sand. This surgical and eco-sensitive approach not only helped maintain the natural character of the area, but also ensured that the fauna could circulate and roam safely, while ensuring smooth transitions between the beach and the surrounding landscapes. Naturalization of the riverbanks was also crucial, as it helped restore the ecological balance, and create diverse and sustainable habitats for local wildlife. By framing views and creating subtle changes in topography, we created a sense of tectonic movements and flow throughout the space, enhancing the visitors’ experience, thus drawing attention to the natural beauty of the area, all while keeping the disturbance of existing and encapsulated contaminated soil to a minimum.
Throughout the project, we worked closely with local First Nations communities, learning, and incorporating traditional knowledge and practices into the design, hence ensuring that the beach would be culturally, socially, and environmentally sensitive and accepted. We were then able to trace migrating routes of existing wildlife, incorporating them into the design to avoid impeding on their trajectories and movements. We also adjusted the project schedule with regards to nesting periods of birds and fish spawning cycles, which sometimes meant resuming construction in freezing temperatures and harsh unforgiving Nordic climates. Our team was proud to be able to minimize disruption to local wildlife and protect vulnerable species during key periods of their lifecycle.
Implementation of native plants was a critical aspect of the delicate approach to the project. By using species that were already adapted to local climate and soil conditions, we minimized needs for irrigation, fertilizing, and maintenance, therefore creating a self-sustaining ecosystem for years to come. In addition to ecological benefits, native plants provide a sense of place and cultural significance. Many species selected for the project have a long history of use by local First Nations communities, and their inclusion in the design helps celebrate and honor this important cultural heritage.
Overall, this cited and multiple award-winning Urban Beach is a stunning example of the power of Landscape Architecture to transform spaces and create positive changes in our communities. The project stands out for its sensitivity to the environment, with a focus on preserving local ecosystems and using sustainable materials and practices. The result is an all year round beautiful and inviting beach that is not only a recreational destination for visitors, but also a valuable ecological asset for the community.
Even before its official opening, Verdun Beach was receiving unprecedented support and social acceptability. The success of this project is testament to the power of Landscape Architecture to transform spaces and create positive change in our world; it became emblematic to the city of Montréal, was included on all urban signalization, and intrinsic part of all the touristic guides of the city.
Fortunate victim of immediate success and a love at first sight from citizens and tourists alike, today the Verdun Urban Beach is a sublime example of proximity and neighborhood service, and a celebration of the Urban Outdoors. It was able to create and instill a sense of place and identity as it re-established the once broken bond between the inhabitants of The City of Montreal with their beloved and iconic Saint-Lawrence River.