Real Estate

The Building: Montreal’s new Formula One paddock was built for champions

This summer, F1 fans will watch cars scorch around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in record time. Its new paddock came together just as quickly. 

(Photography by Steve Montpetit)

At full tilt, Formula One cars can top 300 kilometres an hour. That means any nearby structures have to be robust. The schedule for building a sturdy, sophisticated new grandstand for the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix was set to turbo, too. In 2018, the city of Montreal was on the hook with F1 for a new viewing zone to flank Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the historic four-kilometre track that’s hosted Canada’s most elite auto event since 1978. Just 10 months remained before the next F1 stopover, so the project started as a race against time—and all the usual supply-chain delays.

The city approved $50 million for Éric Gauthier, a senior partner at local architecture firm FABG, to realize his vision: a timber-heavy, minimalist paddock that departed from the fun but flagrant gas-guzzling ethos of F1 in favour of greener choices. The new build, set to replace the original rickety steel paddock, would maintain all the luxurious wow factors of a world-class racing facility: 13 stables for drivers (and their trusty pit crews); a suite of offices for the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, or FIA; an updated multimedia centre for journalists; and two sweeping, open-air terraces with gourmet-dining pop-ups and open bars—perfect for celebratory visits from champagne-soaked F1 winners.

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The paddock’s wooden roof rests atop rows of Y-shaped columns, which Gauthier modelled after the iconic outstretched arms of the Expo 67 logo. The event took place on these exact grounds more than 50 years ago.

Gauthier quickly recruited a team of roughly 500 builders to erect a skeleton of steel beams and columns and prefabricated concrete panels. (Mixing materials, Gauthier thought, would help offset any shipping snags and let him finish the build on time.) The paddock’s roof was composed of cross-laminated Quebec timber: each cubic metre of it stores roughly a ton of atmospheric carbon dioxide, sequestered during the trees’ life cycles.

In May of 2019, with four weeks remaining until race day, the paddock reached its final form: a gargantuan 250,000-square-foot complex with 5,000 seats, each with views of natural landmarks like Jean-Doré Beach, Mount Royal and the St. Lawrence River. The track is used year-round by runners and cyclists, but there’s nothing quite like the energy that zips around it when Formula One comes to town—this year, on June 18. Racing season is when it really comes alive.

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The building’s steel, wood and concrete partitions are designed to be easily dismantled and recycled for use in future projects

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