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When It Comes To Apartments In Montreal, THIS Is Why They All Look The Same

Important to know when you're looking for a place to live in the city.
When It Comes To Apartments In Montreal, THIS Is Why They All Look The Same

With July getting ever closer, many of you are probably on the apartment hunt, finding a new place to live before Moving Day dawns. And in your search, you've checked out scores of apartments, noticing how many seem to be built in almost the exact same fashion.

Even if you've lived in the same spot your entire life,  just by heading over to a few friends' place over the years has probably showcased how there's a fairly typical layout to an apartment in Montreal.

You know what I'm talking about. An outdoor staircase leads up to the first floor, with another apartment (or several) stacked on top. Walking in, you find yourself taken through the apartment by one very long hallway that extends all the way to the back, with rooms attached along the way. In essence, it's the quintessential Montreal apartment floor plan.

Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, especially when you include newer apartments. But for most in the city, a majority of which were built in the early 19th century, the aforementioned elements tend to be common to almost all apartments.

So why do so many Montreal apartments look the same? Well, as with all things, we just need to delve back a bit into the city's history to find out.

Montreal: A City Of Plexes

When talking about Montreal apartments, it's fairly important to use the more specific term, namely "plex." You surely know what a plex is even if you aren't familiar with the term; a plex is building where apartments are literally stacked on top of each other. Duplex refers to a building with two stacked apartments, triplex for three, and so on.

Montreal is actually one of the only North American cities where plexes are the main style of housing. Chicago and Boston have plexes too, but not on the scale of Montreal, where a vast majority of Montrealers live in a plex-style building.

The reason for Montreal adopting the plex-layout rests in a cultural fusion of sorts, as historians have noted. Specifically, the plex method of stacking residences is a Scottish building practice, one Scottish immigrants brought with them when coming to Montreal. The practice was then melded with French-Canadian architectural elements (such as the use of an outdoor stair case) to create the Montreal plex.

But while the plex itself was formed thanks to an architectural-cultural fusion, it didn't become the Montreal standard for that reason. Rather, it was the City of Montreal that led to the plex being Montreal's standard apartment-form.

How Building Codes Played A Key Role

As noted by Université de Montréal professor of architecture Susan Bronson, building codes enforced by the city and meant to improve Montreal's general living conditions (remember, Montreal was seen as a "hygienic disgrace to civilization" at the time) played a key role in making the plex-layout Montreal's dominant apartment style.

One building code in particular demanded that apartments have a particular arrangement of windows and doors, otherwise known as "fenestration." Apartments were forced to let in a particular amount of light in all rooms, and to do so builders used the L-shaped arrangement of space we're all so used to seeing today. So, the reason why a majority of Montreal apartments have a really long hallway with attached rooms is due to city-enforced fenestration.

Along with several other building codes (like actual bathrooms set up in apartments and the infamous outdoor staircases) a cookie-cutter model for the Montreal plex was made.

Going forward, builders were able to use this city-approved blueprint to erect housing units during the 1920-30s, when tons of immigrants were coming into Montreal. Never out of style, these plexes are still used today.

So, to condense a fair amount of architectural history (for more of an in-depth recounting, check out this article) that's pretty much why most Montreal apartments look the same. At least the plexes, that is.

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