Why Montréal is a UNESCO City of Design

Patrimony and Architecture
Habitat 67
Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant

With its rich architecture, fashion and creative sectors, Montréal has discoveries in store for fans of good-looking things of all kinds. Montréal was designated a UNESCO City of Design in 2006, a status it proudly shares with a handful of cities around the world that prioritize creativity and leverage design as a driving force for sustainable urban development.

Canadian Centre for Architecture Entrance Hall - Couple

Montréal’s rich design heritage

Montréal has a long history of design excellence, particularly in areas such as architecture, urban planning, interiors and industrial design. The city’s architectural landscape, blending historic and modern elements, contributes to its overall design identity.


Any architectural tour of Montréal needs to include the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a jewel of a museum and research centre founded in 1979. Its archive would be a good place to research the city’s architectural icons before seeing them in the flesh: Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, for example, or Mies van der Rohe’s Westmount Square, or Phyllis Lambert’s Segal Centre. There’s also Place Ville MarieNotre-Dame Basilica and the Maison Symphonique. One of the most iconic structures is of course the Olympic Stadium, which you can explore at your leisure — not to mention the surrounding plaza, which hosts countless cultural events throughout the year. 

Montreal Fall - Mont Royal, Beaver Lake

Ingeniously designed spaces

Both indoors and out, Montréal’s shared spaces must be lived to be believed! Montréal has implemented various design-driven initiatives aimed at integrating design into urban planning, public spaces and infrastructure to enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.


The city’s most famous piece of landscape design is Mount Royal Park, the bump in the centre of town we all lovingly call “the mountain.” Its many kilometres of pathways can be hiked, biked, skied or snow-shoed, and were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the man behind New York’s Central Park. Other famous green spaces include Parc Jean-Drapeau, which hosted the 1967 World Expo and boasts a giant Alexander Calder sculpture and the geodesic dome (the Montréal Biosphère), as well as Parc Maisonneuve and the whole Espace pour la vie complex, which includes the magnificent Botanical Garden. Downtown, the Quartier des Spectacles is an expertly conceived site for the city’s many festivals. 

Montréal’s legendary Underground City (a 32-kilometre network of pathways that lead from metro stations to malls throughout the downtown core) is a testament to the kind of creativity and attention that goes into our interiors. Some of the metro stations themselves are decorated by artists and designers, and are worth the detour in themselves: the LasalleCharlevoix, De la Savane and Fabre stations, for example. (The glasswork in Champ-de-Mars station is by Automatiste artist Marcelle Ferron.) 

Montréal en Lumière

Creative and cultural effervescence

Montréal hosts countless cultural events, festivals and artistic activities throughout the year that showcase a diverse range of design disciplines, from fashion to fine art. 


Events that prioritize design include the Festival MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE, which involves many works by designers who completely transform Quartier des Spectacles spaces like Esplanade Tranquille with light or installations. There’s also Nuit Blanche, an overnight happening that sees cultural spaces light up the night, and Art Souterrain, an annual free art exhibition network in the Underground City. M.A.D. Festival demonstrates how style in Montréal distinguishes itself from the rest of Canada by its European flair and international influences. This is truly a cosmopolitan, multicultural city, and we literally wear it on our sleeves! 


Montréal is home to world class design schools and institutions, fostering a strong community of designers and design thinkers in graphic design, industrial design, interior design, digital media, the arts and fashion. There’s the textile design school, fibre arts programs both in college and in university, jewellery design programs, renowned post-graduate fine arts programs — even a circus arts school that generates graduates that work around the world.

And a proud, continuing legacy

The UNESCO City of Design designation isn’t only an acknowledgment Montréal’s past accomplishments in fostering and promoting design — it also recognizes the city’s commitment to furthering the role of design in shaping its future. The title involves a duty to continually enhance the city’s creative infrastructure, support local designers and artists, promote cultural diversity and celebrate design in all sorts of aspects of urban life.


Montréal’s active involvement in the UNESCO network demonstrates its commitment to international collaboration and the exchange of ideas related to design and creativity. Happy exploring!

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant is a Montréal-based editor and storyteller with a curiosity that runs deeper than most. She has chatted life philosophies with celebrity chefs, gemologists, arena rockers and furries. (All were transformative.) Her free time is spent designing jewellery and laughing at her husband’s jokes.

See articles by Isa