Meet Muir - The new addition to the Queen’s Marque district has landed on Halifax Harbour
“When we started to develop the plans, Nova Scotia was on the precipice of something new,”
Scott Armour McCrea, CEO of The Armour Group.
Queen’s Marque is a new gilt-edged metropolitan district located on the historic waterfront in the centre of downtown Halifax. But it is way more than a new build. It tells a story of Nova Scotia’s history and ingenuity, and it’s a representation of the talent, expertise and bright future of the province. The new neighbourhood, which encompasses nearly half a million square feet of space, has been created as a legacy project by The Armour Group and designed by celebrated Nova Scotia architectural firm MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects. It includes luxury apartments, office space, restaurants, retail, a substantial art collection of commissioned statement pieces created by Nova Scotia’s finest artists and notable artists from around the globe and, in the centre of it all, Muir, a refined, distinctly Nova Scotian hotel and hospitality experience.
During construction, Queen’s Marque was arguably the most complex build in the country, and it seems no regional detail was overlooked nor budget spared in representing the rediscovered ethos of the province. Queen’s Marque was “born of this place,” and while it invites tourists to make a connection to the province and its people, 75,000 square feet of it has been designed for the public to enjoy — year-round.
The name “Queen’s Marque” is as genius and as carefully considered as the district itself. Every visiting king, queen, prince and princess arrived at the shoreline where Queen’s Marque sits today. A marque was a permission awarded by the Crown to seek one’s fortune. When Nova Scotia joined Confederation in 1867, it was very prosperous, and several successful banks had been established in Halifax because of that fortune.
“When we started to develop the plans, Nova Scotia was on the precipice of something new,” says Scott Armour McCrea, chief executive officer of The Armour Group, owner and operator of Queen’s Marque. “We wanted to respect the historical antecedents of the area while expressing both the modernity and the future of the city and the province of Nova Scotia. Halifax has been the province’s historical centre for the past 250 years, and we expect that to continue. The name ‘marque’ isn’t so much about seeking one’s fortune but rather a zeitgeist that used to exist here and is reawakening today. There is a sense that we can reach out to the world and accomplish great things here.”
"Nova Scotia isn’t a backwater; there isn’t a culture of defeat here but rather one of defiance."
Scott Armour McCrea, CEO of The Armour Group.
It is undeniable that Queen’s Marque was conceived, built and designed to be of this place: “We know that place is something that defines people in their daily lives,” adds McCrea. “Nova Scotia isn’t a backwater; there isn’t a culture of defeat here but rather one of defiance. There is a rise-again mentality embedded in the province’s fabric. We wanted something that was quintessentially Nova Scotian — we know that if you put this district anywhere else in the world it would not work. And we love that about Queen’s Marque.”
Wide concrete stairs are a main attraction and part of the designated public space of the district. The stairs are 20,000 pounds of granite that sit on 80,000-pound risers inside and outside. There are 10 steps, tapped down into the ocean floor, with anchors to hold them there.
“The stairs refer to the founding of the city. I think of the stairs as a cousin to the (famous stairs to the) Tiber in Rome, down to the Thames in London, or down to the Seine in Paris,” says Queen’s Marque’s lead architect, Brian MacKay-Lyons. “The local story is yes, this is where the British came ashore and where the Indigenous peoples arrived before that, but it is also a world story in that staircases going into the water have lots of precedence around the globe. The local and the universal should not be seen as enemies of one another. The staircase is in fact an archetypal statement that anyone visiting from any culture would relate to. Our hope is that, just as one would see Kastellet and The Little Mermaid when visiting Copenhagen, they would visit the stairs at Queen’s Marque when in Halifax.”
The invisible, technical components of Queen’s Marque are far too many to mention, but as a multi-purpose, mixed-use space, every detail of flow and accessibility were considered: residents have different needs than the hotel guests, for instance. People living in the apartments have 24-7 access to Muir’s amenities like room service, sea access, boat and yacht share, and car-and-driver service. The construction involved a one-year sub-sea dig to create a two-level parking area, and the structure includes a power plant that uses the ocean’s water to facilitate sustainable chill-beam technology to heat and cool the neighbourhood.
“From early on, Scott has come to our offices each Friday to meet,” recalls MacKay-Lyons. “He called our offices his ‘happy place’ where we could dream. In the beginning of our working relationship, I would present an option, and I would preface it by saying, ‘This is the more economically feasible route,’ to which he would respond, ‘That is not why I hired you. Let me worry about the money.’ They say a good baseball player knows when they can hit it out of the ballpark. Scott and The Armour Group knew this was their opportunity to deliver a genuine legacy for the city and the province. They are innovative developers in terms of urban building, access and ensuring a cultural fit with the Maritimes. The fact that the public-art budget was upwards of seven million dollars and sixty percent of the space was designated public is a testament to their commitment to access. Scott is a tireless ambassador for the potential of Nova Scotia — that is why the building in the centre of the courtyard carries the moniker ‘Rise Again.’ His way of thinking has been great for us: we have been able to build something of prominent meaning. It’s a win-win, and we hope that visitors and the public will love Queen’s Marque as much as we have enjoyed creating it.”
The luxury apartments were not part of the original plan. MacKay-Lyons suggested them to McCrea, and the next day they received the go-ahead to include them. The acclaimed architect explains, “It’s important to urbanity that people reside within the district, and maximum, mixed use is the end goal. People need to live, work, eat and shop there. If someone wants to pick up a bouquet of flowers to bring home to their spouse, they should be able to do that. This type of living is comparable to a lifestyle you would find in Manhattan, New York City.”
Muir, which is Gaelic for “sea,” is an Autograph Collection hotel and the cornerstone of Queen’s Marque. Its architecture and design balance tradition and modernity — it’s where guests can connect to contemporary Nova Scotia. Throughout the property, forms express a modern marine, wharf-like design. At Muir’s entrance, patrons are welcomed by the Light Chocks, an architectural art installation featuring a pair of glowing columns incorporating abstract Fresnel lenses, like those used at the iconic Sambro lighthouse. Amenities include elevated regional dining; boat and yacht access, an ultra-premium wellness centre with high-performance fitness equipment, a vitality spa pool and a halotherapy salt room.
At Muir, materiality also makes a significant connection to place. Muir’s interiors and furnishings are the genius of internationally recognized designer Alessandro Munge, founder and principal of Toronto’s Studio Munge. Throughout Muir, custom furniture and lighting, designed and crafted in Canada, reflect a modern interpretation of East Coast design. The rooms and suites are richly textured with curved white oak walls and plank flooring — a subtle nod to luxury ocean travel. Spa-like bathrooms are lined with granite and feature a separate wet room. The collection of bespoke and contemporary furniture in each room includes a walnut floating worktable, walnut-framed bed(s) and a full-size bar redolent of luminous ship apertures. Designed for comfort and productivity, each room offers workspaces for business travellers seeking an ideal balance between an inspiring setting and practicality, and each is adorned with an original painting by a Nova Scotia artist. Gathering spaces are intimate and inviting, with softly lit cove lighting warmed by vivacious fireplaces. Statement pieces from local artists appear throughout, including a handwoven tapestry by Allison Pinsent Baker that depicts a spectacular Nova Scotia landscape. The tapestry measures 69.75 by 73 inches and is proudly hung behind the reception desk.
“I loved making this piece,” says Pinsent Baker. The gifted artist spent 18 months creating the tapestry, her largest work to date. “When I received the package from Muir’s art consultant — which included the colour palette, the textures, the design elements — I intuitively felt that I could work within that paradigm. The fact that Muir sits directly on the coastline is incredibly special and something that needs to be celebrated. I’m thrilled to know that people from around the world will see my work.”
Drift, the signature restaurant at Muir, is led by one of the country’s top culinary artists, Chef Anthony Walsh. Walsh has deep ties with the Halifax community: most of his family live there, and it’s a coming home of sorts for him. Walsh oversees the food and beverage operations of the entire district, which includes seven other eateries. Drift features modern, elevated takes on classic Atlantic Canadian dishes. Like every other component of Queen’s Marque, it has been thoughtfully designed to be of this place — an ideal space to entertain colleagues or to do quiet work at the spacious bar. The restaurant begs its guests to take in stunning views of the ocean, experience the iconic Tidal Beacon art installation, or enjoy an evening tucked in by the fire.
To staff Muir, McCrea and his team have enlisted the expertise of local and global talent: “Hotels are quickly becoming far more than a place to sleep, and we think about that when hiring the best service and hospitality professionals out there. We are delighted to have employed many local experts, but we are also excited that we have hired service and hospitality professionals from Whistler and Vancouver, British Columbia, France and elsewhere. We anticipate that for our people moving to this area to work with Muir, they will enjoy the quality of life that exists here.”
Whether you are a bona fide Haligonian, or you are making a visit to this vibrant city that proudly sits on the Atlantic coastline, chances are your experience of Queen’s Marque will be transformative — a celebration for all the senses. It respects the city’s unique history and inspires people to rediscover the beauty and the realized potential of Halifax. Queen’s Marque is a triumph and a tour de force for The Armour Group and MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects. The urban mixed-use district is truly born of this place, and you will want to experience it time and time again.
Read this article by Jennifer Wood and more in [EDIT]