What is the RÉSO?
The RÉSO, which is also referred to as the Underground City, is a network of underground tunnels located in Montréal, Canada. These interconnected tunnels contain shopping centers, restaurants, hotels, and even office buildings! The underground system spans 32 kilometers and is the largest of its kind in the world. Visitors often remark that it feels like a second city under the city of Montreal itself.
Construction of the RÉSO began in the 1960s, when Montreal hosted the World Exposition. Urban architectural planners imaged a space that would connect different parts of the city via underground alleyways. The purpose of this effort was to offer shelter from the harsh winters of Canada and provide reduced street congestion. Originally, the system was designed solely to connect the Expo’s pavilions and buildings. However, over time, the RÉSO grew and became a critical part of the urban landscape in Montreal.
During construction, the RÉSO proved to be a difficult undertaking. Millions of cubic meters of earth and rock were removed in order to instal pipes and electrical wiring that extended miles under the city. Furthermore, space for buildings and facilities was carved out of the earth, often using explosives and heavy machinery. The tunnels are constructed of concrete that is up to two feet thick in some areas. Lining the concrete are cables that cary water, electricity, and other services throughout the underground complex. Throughout construction, workers were on three shifts a day in order to ensure that the project remained on schedule.
One of the most difficult components of construction was not the labor, however, but getting people to agree on the viability of the project. Initially, some business owners and contractors were skeptical of the success that could be achieved with this project. Additionally, the size of the project required that dozens of different entities and groups worked in tandem in order to achieve a smooth and flawless execution and aesthetic. Throughout all of this, the RÉSO was completed in 1966, just in time for the World Expo and right on schedule!
Today, over 2,000 business thrive in the RÉSO where upwards of 500,000 visitors travel through each day. The business range from high-end fashion outlets to fast-food restaurant chains and movie theaters. Several cultural attractions also found a home in the RÉSO, including the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, the Place des Arts, and the Bell Centre (where the city hockey team plays).
The tunnels have also been beautified over the decades. Now, visitors are greeted with colorful light displays, mosaic walls, and art pieces. The ceilings sport murals, and sculptures can be found scattered throughout the city. Energy-efficient lighting and green spaces have also been incorporated into the underground city in order bring the natural world into the enclosed space. Many consider the RÉSO not only a city under the Earth, but as a work of art itself.
The RÉSO contributes incredibly to the economic prosperity of Montreal. The underground city creates hundred of thousands of jobs and generates billions of dollars in revenue each year. Millions of visitors pass through the shops and tunnels every year an experience the architectural wonder of the RÉSO. Should you ever find yourself in the city of Montreal, the RÉSO is a critical cultural experience.