Inside Google’s super-sustainable new Montreal HQ

With a giant cafeteria inspired by the open-air Jean-Talon Market
Jean Grant 

Google laid its roots in Montreal back in 2004, with a grand total of three software developers typing away in a cramped co-working space. Almost two decades later, more than 300 employees now work out of their new five-floor, 100,000-square-foot headquarters in the historic Read Building in Old Montreal’s Paper Hill neighbourhood. They focus on areas including AI research, cybersecurity, Cloud and Chrome in an office space that channels the character of Montreal, paying homage to some of the city’s most iconic neighbourhoods. 

There’s a café inspired by a famous open-air market in Little Italy, a Google sign that mimics the historic Farine Five Roses sign that sits atop the Port of Montreal, and a variety of commissioned artworks from local artists—including a custom quilt by Karen Desparois and a whimsical mural by illustrator Cécile Gariépy. Sustainability was the primary goal for design architects In Studio, as well as the project’s architectural firms Monarch Design Group and Neuf Architectes. All the bathrooms have low-flow water fixtures, for example, and electric heat pumps minimize energy use. The designers added CO2 sensors to the HVAC systems to infuse the building with plenty of fresh air. There are 117 bicycle parking spots, plus on-site showers and changing rooms for commuters.

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Fabrice Jaubert, the director of software development and Google Montreal lead, says that it was important to have a variety of spaces that support different kinds of thinking, like partitioned booths for focused work, breakout rooms for collaboration, open spaces for social events and a quiet library to unwind. All food, beverages and coffee are free, and staff can get subsidized massages on-site when they’re feeling stressed. There’s also a parenting room with nursing supplies, an in-house fitness centre for lunchtime workouts and a meditation room. Employees are required to go into the headquarters three days a week, and on Thursday afternoons, the whole office gathers in the café for a social hour called TGIT (“thank goodness it’s Thursday”). Here’s a peek inside the space. 

There’s plenty of space in Le Café for employees to gather every Thursday, where there’s often a theme or celebratory tie-in to the free food and drinks offered (for example: Thanksgiving-inspired cocktails). The complimentary coffee is sourced locally from Rabbit Hole Roasters. 

The food area on the 13th floor was inspired by Jean-Talon Market, the open-air market in Montreal’s Little Italy. Different sections serve up hot and cold dishes for breakfast and lunch every day, like soups and salads, as well as pizzas and flatbreads made fresh in the kitchen’s own pizza oven. 

Here’s another view of the café. The mural was commissioned from local illustrator Cécile Gariépy, who designed it to complement the social space with playful depictions of pedestrians and market-goers. 

The fireplace in the café isn’t real—faux flames are made from light shining on water vapour.

A breakout area like this is often used for spontaneous brainstorming sessions. The fleur-de-lis on the wall is a nod to the Quebec flag. 

The company made sure none of the materials and furniture used were on the “Red List,” a catalogue of harmful chemicals in common construction materials from the International Living Future Institute. The carpet here is carbon neutral, and the fabric panels on the phone room walls are made from 100 per cent post-consumer recycled material. 

The meeting rooms named after shipping silos are a nod to the nearby Port of Montreal.  

At the entrance to the office is a Google sign designed to look like the giant Farine Five Roses sign that’s been a neon-lit fixture at the edge of the Old Port since 1948. The maritime quilt hanging behind the desk was commissioned from local artist Karen Desparois, who often incorporates hidden messages in her work using glow-in-the-dark threads, deconstructed shapes or electronics. This one has an easter egg for visitors to solve.