The Big One—Montréal Student Housing

Read Time: 5.5 minutes

Entro (Toronto) embarked on the fourth in a series of independently operated student housing development projects, this time in Montréal, where they weren’t afraid to go bright and bold.

College Town

The city of Montréal in the Canadian province of Quebéc is kind of a college town. The city is host to four universities—McGill, Concordia, UQAM and l’Université de Montréal—and no fewer than 35,000 international students annually, so it’s no surprise there’s a need for centrally-located, chic and safe housing for students.

Campus1 MTL is the fourth student in a series of independently operated student residences developed by Knightstone Capital Management with branding and experiential graphics developed by an Entro team in part led by Project Director and Partner, Rae Lam-Fox. The others are three properties in Ontario: Centennial Place at Centennial College (Scarborough), CampusOne at University of Toronto and Parkside student housing (Toronto).

According to the Montréal Times, Knightstone spent $120 million CAD purchasing and converting a former chain hotel into an 886-room student housing center, replete with high-end amenities like 24/7 security, high-speed WiFi, all-you-can-eat dining, workout facilities, lounges, study rooms and entertainment rooms like a game lounge, arcade and movie theater. Campus1 MTL sets itself apart from other student housing choices by offering affordable, stylish accommodations within walking distance to key universities.


Lam-Fox has been involved in all three of the previous Campus1 projects for Knightstone, who approached Entro in early 2018 to create a graphic design program including logo and experiential graphics to seamlessly integrate with the space to give the property a distinctive identity unique to its urban location. For this particular project, the Entro team became involved early on after collaborator, Diamond Schmitt Architects had planned the space.

“We worked closely with Diamond Schmitt Architects’ and Director of Interiors to strategically locate and take advantage of the strongest opportunities for experiential graphics throughout,” explains Lam-Fox. “The branding led many aspects of the aesthetics for the environmental visuals and wayfinding components, that intentionally dovetail with finishes and furniture.”

There were no design mandates, but the clients encouraged the team to put forward a look and feel that was a little more daring, upbeat—and even loud—to cater to a young urban demographic. Branding discussions began with the name Campus1 MTL, to build on the success of CampusOne in Toronto, which had originated in a naming exercise led by Entro.

Between the client’s existing student residences, a culture has been growing: Their collective students have been creating events like cooking challenges, and buses shuttle students from one residence to the next. This precipitated a change in focus of the brand development to a visual that could represent the overarching brand of Knightstone’s residences, creating a feeling of a broader community. In addition, the operations staff have expanded the branding to promotional items like t-shirts and site-specific artworks, something which was considered in the development of Campus1 MTL’s branding.

Preparation and Study

Lam-Fox’s team played off the numeral, trying to put emphasis on it moving forward to identify the residences as “the number one residence that students would choose.” She says, “When compared to the CampusOne Toronto logo, the 1 in the Campus1 MTL logo has a different shape and scale.” The 1 has become as identifying emblem. It includes a colorful interior patterning unique to Montreal, but the form of the numeral will function as a frame for future residence-specific patterns.

Entro’s design team drew inspiration from the youthful energy of the city and iconic Montréal cultural moments like Expo ’67. Lam-Fox tells us one of the design team’s goals was to recreate the spirit of the city’s nightlife. This energetic idea paired with the fact that it’s a student residence with diverse young people under one roof, led them to many rectilinear shapes coming together that “form an unexpected and forward-looking view to how this type of housing is evolving; the left to upper-right motion implies this positive trajectory.”

The concept is illustrated throughout the building taking the form of abstract motifs, energetic colors, shapes and patterns. Reds are dominant in the color scheme for two reasons: The building is not part of McGill University’s campus, but because of its physical proximity, the team did insert the University’s red into the color palette to hint at the association; and because red décor is prominent at the existing CampusOne as well.

The bright branding is the primary reference in the wayfinding graphics and signage on the first two floors but into the upper levels—and away from the elevator lobbies—the brand presence becomes more muted. Concentrations of large-scale graphics demarcate key communal areas, and smaller, more conservative elements highlight transitional spaces such as hallways and around elevator cores, accenting the largely monochromatic interiors and effectively setting the tone for Diamond Schmitt Architects to choose boldly colored furniture upholstery and graphic lighting.

“Color is very important to what we do and we’re very strategic about how we use it,” states Lam-Fox. “It’s not often that we have the chance to be this bold, this loud and not have it be off-brand.” Combined with layered acrylic wayfinding, large-scale colorful digitally printed vinyl graphics establish a clear identity for Campus1 MTL, while also supporting the functions of each zone of the building.

Final Exams

Throughout the renovated space, each graphic application aims to draw visitors and residents in. The placemaking and wayfinding invite a closer look, compelling people to find out what lies around the corner or to engage, which begins on the exterior of the building. The front door of Campus1 MTL is set back from the curbside and a prominent canopy projects forward, displaying the bright faceted Montréal-themed pattern, illuminated on its underside.

Lam-Fox describes the exterior as being an opportunity to craft a really powerful first impression by dressing the underside of the canopy and placing prominent signage on the side of the building. “From the street, they’ve become larger-than-life beacons, and at night it’s quite stunning.”

Equally impressive signage adorns the right side of the building near the top floors: An eight-foot-tall lit acrylic patterned number 1 can be seen from famous Mount Royal, something the design team is proud of. “The amount of freedom and latitude we were given to employ these larger bolder moments are one of the things we enjoy most about a project like this one.” Together, the brand mark, signage and experiential graphics give the space personality and identity and this has resonated with students who have truly embraced their new residence.


Project Name: Campus1 MTL
Client: Knightstone Capital
Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Open Date: April 2019
Project Area: 438,995 sq ft
Architect: Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc.
Experiential Graphic Design: Entro
Photography: James Brittain Photography