A New Landscape in Montreal Weaves Together Icons of the City’s Expo 67

Encompassing a Buckminster Fuller–designed geodesic dome and an Alexander Calder sculpture, the intervention shows how the city is rethinking its world’s fair treasures.

A new park in Montreal creates pedestrian routes that unite the city’s Expo 67 treasures, specifically works by Buckminster Fuller and Alexander Calder. Courtesy Société du Parc Jean-Drapeau

The contemporary urban fabric of Montreal, perhaps more than any other Canadian city, was shaped by a single event in its modern history: the 1967 International and Universal Exposition, popularly known as Expo 67. With its record-breaking number of visitors, it was the most successful world’s fair of the 20th century and fueled a construction boom in the city that stretched into the late 1970s.

The original site on Île-Sainte-Hélène, across from the city’s famed Old Port, became emblematic of Montreal’s growth as a budding metropolis. A changing political environment in the 1980s and ‘90s, driven by nationalist Parti Québécois governments, meant that the once-iconic site was left largely abandoned before being turned into a wooded park. Many of the fair’s original structures didn’t survive the passing of time, save a very large Buckminster Fuller–designed geodesic dome—now known as the Biosphere—and Alexander Calder’s monumental Trois disques sculpture, as well as Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 housing project on a nearby site. 

For Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations, the City of Montreal commissioned a series of urban regeneration projects aimed at addressing decades of underfunding. Part of this scheme included overhauling Parc Jean-Drapeau, the site’s official name—the City tapped local firm Lemay to helm the renovation. Because of the ‘67 connection, the restoration became emblematic of Montreal’s ideological aim to project itself as a global city rather than a regional capital.

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The main feature of the redeveloped park is a new central concourse that links the Biosphere and Calder’s sculpture on the banks of the Saint Lawrence river, creating a cohesive path for visitors through the park. The project also restored a 65,000-capacity amphitheater and riverside walkway. Mindful of the site’s legacy, all new interventions echo the simple geometric vocabulary of Expo 67.

Along with devising the new routes, Canadian firm Lemay also designed site furniture. Courtesy Marc Cramer

“This intervention was really about the links from the Bucky dome to the Calder sculpture and really clarifying the visitor experience,” said Andrew King, partner and design principle at Lemay. “This is about linking the waterpark, the newer landscape, and the native landscape elements; creating a series of events, a topographic sequence, and more of a meander through the site.”

New additions to the site include three pavilions designed to accommodate a café, information center, public restrooms, and a machinery room that supports the amphitheater. The pavilions’ hunkered-down shape—with exterior metal cladding that folds over itself like an origami—handily integrates with the landscape.

The Lemay team were keen to work Expo 67’s graphic identity into the new landscape, using the fair’s Y-shaped logo and the triangular pattern of the geodesic dome as the motifs throughout. New furniture designed specially for the park also drew from the 1960s originals and adhere to sustainability considerations: benches are made of local Canadian oak—chosen for its longevity and resistance to the elements—and concrete was cast with recycled glass bottles. 

“How could we bring the ideas of ‘67, but make a more contemporary analysis of what the park could be? That’s what really drove this project,” says King, adding an attention to inclusivity was a guiding principle. “We’re trying to make it more whimsical and more joyful for the city. Because the site was a little bit shrouded in its lack of investment.”

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