Cistercian Abbey of Saint-Jean-De-Matha

Architect Pierre Thibault, Architecte

Location Saint-Jean-De-Matha, Quebec

The new Cistercian Abbey of Saint-Jean-de-Matha strives to express the harmony and inner simplicity sought by Cistercian monks in their daily lives which centre around hospitality, contemplation and prayer. The sequential organization of functions within the project encourages inner reflection and privacy for both monks and guests, while the volumetric purity of the abbey responds to the landscape in a gesture that promotes the intertwining of natural and built elements.

Spatially, the organization of the abbey culminates at the church, the heart and focal point of the project. The compound is traversed by the gatehouse, which features an east-west axis that extends beyond the buildings into the landscape on either side. Permeable from the north, the gatehouse links the guesthouse and the church, shielding the private areas of the monastery and cloister.

A belvedere to the west and an observation tower to the east mark the ends of the east-west axis, a gesture which contributes to defining the monks’ garden to the south which overlooks a cliff, and the guests’ garden to the north, located beside the pond. The gardens incorporate a vegetable plot, a way of the cross, and sites specifically devoted to contemplation, allowing monks and guests to take advantage of private moments of reflection.

Perpendicular to the east-west axis, the square further extends from north to south to create a succession of spaces that gradually shift from public to private. Originating beyond the pond, the progressively articulated landscape successively becomes a garden for guests, a reception area, a contemplative garden within the cloister walls and finally, at the extreme south, a garden of reflection and meditation exclusively for the monks. It begins in the parking area located in the clearing to the north and translates the momentum of spiritual life.

In both the cloister and the guesthouse, functions are sequenced vertically from bottom to top and from the collective to the individual. The ground floor thus features service-related and common rooms. Accessible from the infirmary, monks’ cells and the infirmary are located on the upper mezzanine floor, which also contains a multi-purpose room and an observatory. Spaces on this floor look out onto the forest and the green roof.

A vertical arrangement of simple, harmonious materials echoes the vertical sequencing of space. Common spaces are thus lodged among stone that speaks of perennial forces, while the upper floor, made of wood, houses private spaces for individual reflection.

Material choices also translate intentions with regard to sustainable development. Stone is used to house common spaces; it is modulated through alcoves that open onto the landscape, broadened to form niches or, in the chapter room, recessed to create a fireplace, conferring a spirit of solidity, sobriety and authenticity to the common rooms. Geothermal energy is distributed through a radiant floor heating system. Wood panelling on the upper floor gives warmth and humanity to the cells and their integrated furnishings, and defines the structural rhythm of the individual balconies. Landscape interventions such as the rainwater basin and the green roofs provide a spatial dynamic while serving to collect and recoup grey water from the compound’s hygiene facilities.

Representing individual contemplation (wood) within the heart of the community (stone), the church combines both materials in an ongoing dialogue with natural light. Reaching to the sky, the stone volume of the church is panelled with wood on the interior, modulating and intensifying the acoustics. Glass openings in the stone walls permit natural daylight to this site of celebration and communion.

Ouellette: This project is a retreat from an increasingly frenetic and outwardly focused world. The introverted and meditative courtyard contrasts a more extroverted chuch wing. But this place is really about its sublime relationship with the surrounding landscape. In addition, like many other projects shown here, the architects have designed in systems to reduce the building’s long-term impact on the surrounding environment.

Provencher: Simplicity and refinement are the words to describe this project. The classical plan adapted with a very modern architectural approach finds its roots in the history and precedent of monastic architecture. The architect boldly proposes a rigourous organization of the different functions on the site, sequentially arranging the more public functions toward the more private ones. Additionally, a serious approach to sustainability underlies the concept of the proposed monastery.

Taylor: The apparent simplicity of the parti for this project is counterbalanced by subtle moves that will create a richness of experience: the way the roof of the chapel slides out to become a great overhang to mark the entry; the subtle angle of one wall of the chapel that sets it apart from the rectilinear geometry of the rest of the building; the dialogue between stone and wood. I suspect that there will be a waiting list for new novices here.

Client Cistercian Community of Oka

Architect Team Pierre Thibault, Vadim Siegel, Andre Limoges, Jean-Francois Mercier, Anais Corbier, Katerine Mckinnon, Charles Ferland

Structural Nicolet-Chartrand-Knoll Ltee

Mechanical Dupras-Ledoux Ingenieurs

Electrical Dupras-Ledoux Ingenieurs

Landscape Pierre Thibault, Architecte

Interiors Pierre Thibault, Architecte

Area 4,200 M2

Budget $10 M

Completion 2007